Flow-Mediated Susceptibility and Molecular Response of Cerebral Endothelia to SARS-CoV-2 Infection

Naoki Kaneko, Sandro Satta, Yutaro Komuro, Sree Deepthi Muthukrishnan, Visesha Kakarla, Lea Guo, Jennifer An, Fanny Elahi, Harley I. Kornblum, David S. Liebeskind, Tzung Hsiai, Jason D. Hinman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection is associated with an increased rate of cerebrovascular events including ischemic stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage. The mechanisms underlying cerebral endothelial susceptibility and response to SARS-CoV-2 are unknown yet critical to understanding the association of SARS-CoV-2 infection with cerebrovascular events. Methods: Endothelial cells were isolated from human brain and analyzed by RNA sequencing. Human umbilical vein and human brain microvascular cells were used in both monolayer culture and endothelialized within a 3-dimensional printed vascular model of the middle cerebral artery. Gene expression levels were measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and direct RNA hybridization. Recombinant SARS-CoV-2 S protein and S protein-containing liposomes were used to measure endothelial binding by immunocytochemistry. Results: ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme-2) mRNA levels were low in human brain and monolayer endothelial cell culture. Within the 3-dimensional printed vascular model, ACE2 gene expression and protein levels were progressively increased by vessel size and flow rates. SARS-CoV-2 S protein-containing liposomes were detected in human umbilical vein endothelial cells and human brain microvascular endothelial cells in 3-dimensional middle cerebral artery models but not in monolayer culture consistent with flow dependency of ACE2 expression. Binding of SARS-CoV-2 S protein triggered 83 unique genes in human brain endothelial cells including upregulation of complement component C3. Conclusions: Brain endothelial cells are susceptible to direct SARS-CoV-2 infection through flow-dependent expression of ACE2. Viral S protein binding triggers a unique gene expression profile in brain endothelia that may explain the association of SARS-CoV-2 infection with cerebrovascular events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-270
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • cerebrovascular circulation
  • endothelial cells
  • endothelium, vascular
  • models, theoretical
  • viruses


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