The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect millions of people worldwide. Although SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus, there is growing concern that the disease could cause damage and pathology outside the lungs, including in the genital tract. Studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infection can damage the testes and reduce testosterone levels, but the underlying mechanisms are unknown and evidence of virus replication in testicular cells is lacking. We infected golden Syrian hamsters intranasally, a model for mild human COVID-19, and detected viral RNA in testes samples without histopathological changes up to one month post-infection. Using an ex vivo infection model, we detected SARS-CoV-2 replication in hamster testicular cells. Taken together, our data raise the possibility that testes damage observed in severe cases of COVID-19 could be partly explained by direct SARS-CoV-2 infection of the testicular cells.
Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; Sertoli; hamster; reproductive tract; testes.