COVID-19 is a complex disease with short- and long-term respiratory, inflammatory and neurological symptoms that are triggered by the infection with SARS-CoV-2. Invasion of the brain by SARS-CoV-2 has been observed in humans and is postulated to be involved in post-COVID state. Brain infection is particularly pronounced in the K18-hACE2 mouse model of COVID-19. Prevention of brain infection in the acute phase of the disease might thus be of therapeutic relevance to prevent long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19. We previously showed that melatonin or two prescribed structural analogs, agomelatine and ramelteon delay the onset of severe clinical symptoms and improve survival of SARS-CoV-2-infected K18-hACE2 mice. Here, we show that treatment of K18-hACE2 mice with melatonin and two melatonin-derived marketed drugs, agomelatine and ramelteon, prevents SARS-CoV-2 entry in the brain, thereby reducing virus-induced damage of small cerebral vessels, immune cell infiltration and brain inflammation. Molecular modeling analyses complemented by experimental studies in cells showed that SARS-CoV-2 entry in endothelial cells is prevented by melatonin binding to an allosteric-binding site on human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), thus interfering with ACE2 function as an entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2. Our findings open new perspectives for the repurposing of melatonergic drugs and its clinically used analogs in the prevention of brain infection by SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19-related long-term neurological symptoms.
Keywords: Brain infection; COVID-19; Drug repurposing; Melatonin; Neuro-vasculature; SARS-CoV-2.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.