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Coronavirus can reproduce in human heart muscle cells, study reveals

Since the earliest days of the outbreak in China, the scientists know that the coronavirus damages not only lung cells, but can also infiltrate certain bodies in other body tissues

MOSCOW, June 2. /TASS/. Molecular biologists from Germany confirmed that the novel coronavirus is capable of penetrating human heart cells and discovered that it can reproduce there, causing breaks in heartbeat rate, the researchers say in their study, published at the bioRxiv online library.

"SARS-CoV-2 can infect human cardiomyocytes in culture as well as in two different models of cardiac tissue," the researchers write. "Viral infection was associated with cytotoxic effects and inhibition of beating of cardiomyocytes in our in vitro cultures and cardiospheres suggesting a potential detrimental effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection on the human heart."

Since the earliest days of the coronavirus outbreak in China, the scientists know that the coronavirus damages not only lung cells, but it can also infiltrate certain bodies in other body tissues, including mucous membranes of nose, esophagus, blood vessels and heart, as well as other organs.

This feature of the virus, scientists say, might explain why many COVID-19 patients suffer not only from respiratory issues, but also lose the sense of smell, have digestion issues and problems with cardiovascular system.

New danger for the heart

German molecular biologists and cardiologists, led by Stefania Dimmeler, director of the Institute of cardiovascular regeneration at the Goethe University Frankfurt, have revealed one possible reason behind the cardiovascular problems by observing the interaction of the coronavirus and cardiomyocytes, heart muscle cells.

According to Dimmelel, the scientists have been long interested in whether the coronavirus causes heart disruptions directly, by infecting the heart muscle cells, or indirectly, causing inflammation and other disruption in the body, which negatively affect the work of cardiomyocytes.

They tested both hypotheses by attempting to infect both individual heart cells and artificially grown heart muscle tissue specimen with two different strains of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Previously, many biologists doubted that the virus can efficiently procreate in them, because cardiomyocytes do not produce the TMPRSS2 enzyme, which is critically important for the SARS-CoV-2.

The experiments by Dimmeler and her team have shown that the virus can circumvent such problems and use some other, yet unknown to the scientists, biomolecules of the heart muscle cells to perform the same functions. Both strains successfully infiltrated all three heart muscle cell cultures used in the experiment, causing their mass death and disruption.

Such experiments, the scientists say, indicate that the virus directly damages the heart tissue, which must be taken into account during both treatment of COVID-19 carriers and researching of long-term consequences of coronavirus spread among the population.