Researchers describe how COVID-19 infects heart cells

An image shows SARS-CoV-2 (green) infecting heart cells (red).
Credit: Lina Greenberg

On average, one or two out of five patients hospitalized with COVID-19 experience cardiovascular complications, which may start when the virus that causes COVID-19 infects heart cells. Infected heart cells can result in an irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, and severe outcomes, including heart failure.

A study in
JACC: Basic to Translational Science details how the coronavirus infects heart cells, based on observations from people who had myocarditis, or heart-related injury, from COVID-19. To expand on findings from autopsies, the researchers created mock heart tissues in the lab and infected different types of heart cells with the virus. They found that the virus interfered with the heart’s ability to contract, or beat, after the virus activated different immune responses. This led to structural changes, including cell death. The authors note more research is necessary to understand how the virus impacts the heart and other pathways involved in infection.

This study, supported by the NHLBI, provides insight about underlying pathways for coronavirus infection, duration of illness, and severe COVID-19 outcomes. Ongoing research about COVID-19 and the heart continues to inform medical guidelines and the development of therapies to help patients recover from COVID-19.