SARS-CoV-2 and Mitochondrial Proteins in Neural-Derived Exosomes of COVID-19

Ann Neurol. 2022 Jun;91(6):772-781. doi: 10.1002/ana.26350. Epub 2022 Mar 30.


Objective: As SARS-CoV-2 is known to invade neural cell mitochondria, a plasma system for quantifying central nervous system proteins in living humans was used to investigate neuropathogenic mechanisms of long-COVID-19.

Methods: SARS-CoV-2 proteins and mitochondrial proteins (MPs) in enriched plasma neuron-derived extracellular vesicles (NDEVs) and astrocyte-derived EVs (ADEVs) were quantified in resolved acute COVID-19 without post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC), PASC without neuropsychiatric manifestations (NP), PASC with NP and healthy controls.

Results: NDEV and ADEV mean levels of SARS-CoV-2 S1 and nucleocapsid (N) proteins were higher in all PASC sub-groups than controls, but only N levels were higher in PASC with than without NP. Exosome marker CD81-normalized NDEV mean levels of subunit 6 of MP respiratory chain complex I and subunit 10 of complex III, and neuroprotective MPs Humanin and mitochondrial open-reading frame of the 12S rRNA-c (MOTS-c) all were decreased significantly in PASC with NP but not in PASC without NP relative to controls. NDEV levels of MPs voltage-dependent anion-selective channel protein 1 (VDAC1) and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor 1 (NMDAR1) were decreased in PASC without and with NP, whereas those of calcium channel MPs mitochondrial calcium uniporter (MCU), sodium/calcium exchanger (NCLX) and leucine zipper EF-hand containing transmembrane 1 protein (LETM1) were decreased only in PASC with NP. ADEV levels of MCU and NCLX only were increased in PASC without and with NP.

Interpretation: Abnormal NDEV and ADEV levels of SARS-CoV-2 N and S1 protein and MPs correlate with NP and may be biomarkers for long-COVID prognostics and therapeutic trials. ANN NEUROL 2022;91:772-781.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • COVID-19* / complications
  • Disease Progression
  • Exosomes* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Biomarkers
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins