Coronavirus can 'hijack' brain cells to replicate itself, Yale researchers discover

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The coronavirus can affect the brain and “hijack” brain cells to replicate itself, Yale University researchers have discovered.

A new study from Yale University, on BioRXiv, which is awaiting peer review, found that the brain is another organ susceptible to an attack by the novel coronavirus.


“Our study found that SARS-CoV-2 can infect neurons in the brain in a 3D culture of human brain cells (called organoid). We also detect infected neurons from the patient’s brain tissue. When we looked at the cells infected with the virus, we see that they are quite active metabolically, indicating that the virus can hijack the cell’s machinery to make more copies of themselves," lead researcher Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, who is an immunologist at Yale University, told Fox News in an email.

The coronavirus can affect the brain and “hijack” brain cells to replicate itself, Yale University researchers have discovered.<br data-cke-eol="1">

As the virus infects a brain cell, it can deplete the nearby brain cells of oxygen as it replicates itself, they found.

“Since the virus can infect cells within the brain, it can cause significant damage to that cell and the surrounding cells. We saw cells surrounding the infected neurons to be severely damaged and killed by the infection,” Iwasaki explained to Fox News.

While initial reports surrounded mainly the respiratory symptoms of the disease, this study’s findings suggest a potential neurological impact the virus can have on many COVID-19 infected patients if the virus attacks the brain.

“If that happens, there is likely a neurological disease associated with such infection. In mice, infection of the brain resulted in lethality. It is possible that brain infection can trigger severe neurological diseases in people,” Iwasaki said.

The group of researchers also examined cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in patients with COVID-19 with acute neurological symptoms.

“We found that cerebrospinal fluid from COVID infected patients had antibodies that can block the virus from infecting the brain cells using the 3D organoid system,” Iwasaki continued. “This suggests that there is an antibody response within the brain that can block the virus from infecting cells of the brain."


As health care professionals learn more about SARS-CoV-2 infections, research findings reveal how the virus affects multiple systems. Physicians and researchers have observed respiratory issues related to COVID-19 infections, heart inflammation such as myocarditis, loss of smell and taste, gastrointestinal issues, and now neurological effects, as detailed by the Yale study.

“Although COVID-19 is considered to be primarily a respiratory disease, SARS-CoV-2 affects multiple organ systems, including the central nervous system," the researchers concluded in their study.

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