A research group at the Hubrecht Institute, Erasmus MC University Medical Centre, and Maastricht University in the Netherlands used 3D intestine organoids to elucidate the infection pathway of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused COVID-19. Their findings may shed light on the reason why the SARS-CoV-2 is often detected in patients’ stool samples, and why 1/3 of the patients experienced gastrointestinal symptoms.
“These organoids contain the cells of the human intestinal lining”, Professor Hans Clevers, the lead scientist of the research group explained, and this made organoid models a compelling model to investigate infection by SARS-CoV-2.
Cells on the intestine lining possess ACE2 receptors, just like our respiratory organs. The ACE2 receptors were previously proved to be the gateway for SARS-CoV-2 to enter cells. However, until now, it was unknown whether this meant intestinal cells could be infected and produce viral particles.
When the intestine organoids are exposed to the coronavirus, they are quickly infected. With electronic microscopy, the virus was found both inside and outside of enterocytes, which makes up absorptive cells lining the inner surface of the intestine. Further investigation with RNA sequencing demonstrated that the interferon-stimulated genes were activated.
“The observations made in this study provide definite proof that SARS-CoV-2 can multiply in cells of the gastrointestinal tract,” said Dr. Bart Haagmans, a researcher in the Viroscience Department at the Erasmus Medical Center.
“However, we don’t yet know whether SARS-CoV-2, present in the intestines of COVID-19 patients, plays a significant role in transmission.”
The results were published in the journal Science.