Virus that causes COVID-19 might directly infect heart cells

Image of novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Credit: CDC

Researchers are reporting new evidence in lab studies that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, might directly infect heart cells. The study could lead to new medications that directly target virus-infected heart cells, they say.

Many patients with COVID experience heart problems, but the causes are unclear. Scientists have suggested that pre-existing heart conditions, inflammation, and oxygen deprivation may be possible causes. But evidence that the virus can directly infect individual muscle cells of the heart has been limited, until now.

In the study, the researchers used human induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs), a type of stem cell that is created in the lab from blood or skin cells. ISPCs can form any type of cell in the body. The researchers turned them into heart cells. When exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, the researchers showed that the heart cells were susceptible to infection. They also showed that the virus can quickly divide within the heart muscle cells. In addition, the researchers showed that the heart cells changed their gene expression profile, providing new clues about how the body attempts to combat infection.

The study, funded in part by NHLBI, appeared in Cell Reports Medicine.