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Papers of the Week

Papers: 22 Aug 2020 - 28 Aug 2020

Human Studies

2020 Aug 18


Editor's Pick

ACE2 and SCARF expression in human DRG nociceptors: implications for SARS-CoV-2 virus neurological effects.


Shiers S, Ray PR, Wangzhou A, Sankaranarayanan I, Tatsui C E, Rhines LD, Li Y, Uhelski ML, Dougherty PM, Price TJ
Pain. 2020 Aug 18.
PMID: 32826754.


SARS-CoV-2 has created a global crisis. COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is characterized by pneumonia, respiratory distress and hypercoagulation and can be fatal. An early sign of infection is loss of smell, taste and chemesthesis – loss of chemical sensation. Other neurological effects of the disease have been described, but not explained. It is now apparent that many of these neurological effects (for instance joint pain and headache) can persist for at least months after infection, suggesting a sensory neuronal involvement in persistent disease. We show that human dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons express the SARS-CoV-2 receptor, ACE2 at the RNA and protein level. We also demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 and coronavirus-associated factors and receptors (SCARFs) are broadly expressed in human DRG at the lumbar and thoracic level as assessed by bulk RNA sequencing. ACE2 mRNA is expressed by a subset of nociceptors that express MRGPRD mRNA suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 may gain access to the nervous system through entry into neurons that form free-nerve endings at the outermost layers of skin and luminal organs. Therefore, DRG sensory neurons are a potential target for SARS-CoV-2 invasion of the peripheral nervous system and viral infection of human nociceptors may cause some of the persistent neurological effects seen in COVID-19.