SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Disrupts Blood–Brain Barrier Integrity via RhoA Activation

Brandon J. DeOre, Kiet A. Tran, Allison M. Andrews, Servio H. Ramirez, Peter A. Galie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein has been shown to disrupt blood–brain barrier (BBB) function, but its pathogenic mechanism of action is unknown. Whether angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), the viral binding site for SARS-CoV-2, contributes to the spike protein-induced barrier disruption also remains unclear. Here, a 3D-BBB microfluidic model was used to interrogate mechanisms by which the spike protein may facilitate barrier dysfunction. The spike protein upregulated the expression of ACE2 in response to laminar shear stress. Moreover, interrogating the role of ACE2 showed that knock-down affected endothelial barrier properties. These results identify a possible role of ACE2 in barrier homeostasis. Analysis of RhoA, a key molecule in regulating endothelial cytoskeleton and tight junction complex dynamics, reveals that the spike protein triggers RhoA activation. Inhibition of RhoA with C3 transferase rescues its effect on tight junction disassembly. Overall, these results indicate a possible means by which the engagement of SARS-CoV-2 with ACE2 facilitates disruption of the BBB via RhoA activation. Understanding how SARS-CoV-2 dysregulates the BBB may lead to strategies to prevent the neurological deficits seen in COVID-19 patients. Graphic Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)722-728
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of NeuroImmune Pharmacology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology


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