Exploring Mitochondrial Localization of SARS-CoV-2 RNA by Padlock Assay: A Pilot Study in Human Placenta

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Feb 14;23(4):2100. doi: 10.3390/ijms23042100.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic dictated new priorities in biomedicine research. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of COVID-19, is a single-stranded positive-sense RNA virus. In this pilot study, we optimized our padlock assay to visualize genomic and subgenomic regions using formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded placental samples obtained from a confirmed case of COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was localized in trophoblastic cells. We also checked the presence of the virion by immunolocalization of its glycoprotein spike. In addition, we imaged mitochondria of placental villi keeping in mind that the mitochondrion has been suggested as a potential residence of the SARS-CoV-2 genome. We observed a substantial overlapping of SARS-CoV-2 RNA and mitochondria in trophoblastic cells. This intriguing linkage correlated with an aberrant mitochondrial network. Overall, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that provides evidence of colocalization of the SARS-CoV-2 genome and mitochondria in SARS-CoV-2 infected tissue. These findings also support the notion that SARS-CoV-2 infection can reprogram mitochondrial activity in the highly specialized maternal-fetal interface.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2 RNA; mitochondria; padlock; placenta.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / pathology
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • DNA Probes / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / virology*
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques / methods*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Placenta / pathology
  • Placenta / virology*
  • Pregnancy
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification


  • DNA Probes
  • RNA, Viral