SARS-CoV-2 targets neurons of 3D human brain organoids

EMBO J. 2020 Oct 15;39(20):e106230. doi: 10.15252/embj.2020106230. Epub 2020 Sep 23.


COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection is a public health emergency. COVID-19 typically exhibits respiratory illness. Unexpectedly, emerging clinical reports indicate that neurological symptoms continue to rise, suggesting detrimental effects of SARS-CoV-2 on the central nervous system (CNS). Here, we show that a Düsseldorf isolate of SARS-CoV-2 enters 3D human brain organoids within 2 days of exposure. We identified that SARS-CoV-2 preferably targets neurons of brain organoids. Imaging neurons of organoids reveal that SARS-CoV-2 exposure is associated with altered distribution of Tau from axons to soma, hyperphosphorylation, and apparent neuronal death. Our studies, therefore, provide initial insights into the potential neurotoxic effect of SARS-CoV-2 and emphasize that brain organoids could model CNS pathologies of COVID-19.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; Tau pathology; brain organoids; cell death; neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Betacoronavirus / physiology*
  • Brain / virology*
  • Cell Death
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / virology
  • Neurons / virology*
  • Organoids
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Vero Cells
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • tau Proteins