Shillong, August 10: New research reveals that the genes of mitochondria, the cellular energy producers, can suffer detrimental effects due to the coronavirus, resulting in dysfunction across various organs beyond the lungs.
Mitochondria are present in all human cells and play a vital role in energy production.
As per IANS, the study published in Science Translational Medicine explains that the genes responsible for generating mitochondria are distributed among both the nuclear DNA in cell nuclei and the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) within each mitochondrion.
To comprehend the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on mitochondria, researchers analyzed nasopharyngeal and autopsy tissues from both affected patients and animal models.
Joseph Guarnieri, PhD, the study’s lead author, stated, “Tissue samples from human patients allowed us to observe how mitochondrial gene expression changed at the beginning and end of disease progression, while animal models enabled us to fill in the gaps and observe the evolution of gene expression differences over time.”
The research revealed that while mitochondrial gene expression had recovered in the lungs of autopsy tissues, mitochondrial function remained compromised in the heart, kidneys, and liver.
Although SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t found in the brain during animal model studies, and viral load peak times in the lungs were measured, mitochondrial gene expression in the cerebellum remained suppressed.
Overall, the findings suggest that the initial response to infection involves the lungs, but mitochondrial function in other organs, particularly the heart, continues to be impaired. This perspective prompts a shift in understanding COVID-19 from merely an upper respiratory ailment to a systemic disorder affecting multiple organs.
Douglas C. Wallace, PhD, co-senior author of the study, emphasized, “The ongoing dysfunction we observed in organs beyond the lungs suggests that mitochondrial dysfunction could be causing lasting harm to internal organs in these patients.