Sars-Cov-2, a virus that hijacks our neural network

The independence of knowledge and available tools is very important for advancing research. This is particularly evident with this Covid-19 pandemic, where several discoveries on other viruses allow us to better characterize Sars-Cov-2.

Move like a network of highways, or send distant signals to the central nervous system like a telecommunications network…

In order to understand the mechanisms underlying the long forms of Covid-19, Hervé Bourhy, Head of the Lyssavirus, Epidemiology and Neuropathology Unit at the Institut Pasteur, investigated possible strategies for SARSCoV-2 to use our neural network for its own purposes.

More than 20% of people who have contracted Covid-19 have persistent certain symptoms after five weeks and for 10% after three months. Severe fatigue, nervous disorders such as loss of smell, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and heart or respiratory disorders are among the manifestations felt by these people.

Research into the mechanisms of long-term Covid disease shows that it can be caused by damage from the initial infection, but also by persistence of the virus and inflammation in certain areas of the human body.

Building on his work on the rabies virus and its use of a network of neurons to travel to the brain, Hervé Borhey and his team, notably Guilherme Dias de Melo, sought to discover whether SARS CoV-2 infects and also travels along nerve cells.

The rabies virus circulates and spreads along the axons, using the filamentous structure of neurons to travel through the neural network. We used our knowledge and tools of rabies virus to study SARS-CoV-2 explains the researcher.

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According to a study on anosmia (loss of smell), in which Hervé Borhey’s team participated, SARS-CoV-2 virus can be detected within the olfactory epithelium for several months, which can form a gateway to the brain and explain some. Neurological manifestations of the long-term Covid virus.

The virus has a destructive effect on the olfactory epithelium and causes inflammation around the nerve cells. One hypothesis is that the inflammation is transmitted remotely thanks to the neural network, and leads to the persistence of some of the symptoms observed in the long forms.

To explain the persistence of symptoms associated with Covid, one hypothesis being studied is that the virus, even if it is absent, sends signals to the central nervous system. We assume that this virus, like rabies, travels through the neural network to certain specific areas of the central nervous system and disrupts certain functions. In vitro models taken from human and animal cells showed the neural orientation of the virus, that is, its ability to infect and transmit the neural network. More details for the researcher.

Other research work is being conducted in parallel by the team, particularly on rabies. From rabies to Covid, the transfer of knowledge and study tools happened quite naturally with a team accustomed to constantly searching for bridges between diseases, between animals and humans, between viruses …

Hervé Borhey was the inspiration for this pluralism and this transgression, which he himself applied in his career. A veterinarian, a medical microbiologist, arrived at the Pasteur Institute to take courses in immunology and virology, and then for his Ph.D., and since then has developed this research on Lysaviruses (including rabies virus), and can be transferred to SARS- CoV-2.

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