COVID-19 and Long COVID: Disruption of the Neurovascular Unit, Blood-Brain Barrier, and Tight Junctions.

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The Neuroscientist


COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, blood-brain barrier, long COVID, microvascular endothelial cells, neuroinflammation, neurovascular unit, tight junction protein




Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), could affect brain structure and function. SARS-CoV-2 can enter the brain through different routes, including the olfactory, trigeminal, and vagus nerves, and through blood and immunocytes. SARS-CoV-2 may also enter the brain from the peripheral blood through a disrupted blood-brain barrier (BBB). The neurovascular unit in the brain, composed of neurons, astrocytes, endothelial cells, and pericytes, protects brain parenchyma by regulating the entry of substances from the blood. The endothelial cells, pericytes, and astrocytes highly express angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), indicating that the BBB can be disturbed by SARS-CoV-2 and lead to derangements of tight junction and adherens junction proteins. This leads to increased BBB permeability, leakage of blood components, and movement of immune cells into the brain parenchyma. SARS-CoV-2 may also cross microvascular endothelial cells through an ACE2 receptor-associated pathway. The exact mechanism of BBB dysregulation in COVID-19/neuro-COVID is not clearly known, nor is the development of long COVID. Various blood biomarkers could indicate disease severity and neurologic complications in COVID-19 and help objectively diagnose those developing long COVID. This review highlights the importance of neurovascular and BBB disruption, as well as some potentially useful biomarkers in COVID-19, and long COVID/neuro-COVID.



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