SARS-CoV-2 Infects Insulin-Producing Cells in the Pancreas

  • Author: ChemistryViews.org
  • Published: 07 June 2021
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH GmbH
thumbnail image: SARS-CoV-2 Infects Insulin-Producing Cells in the Pancreas

The COVID-19 pandemic is caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Pre-existing conditions such as diabetes can increase the risk of severe disease upon infection with SARS-CoV-2. Conversely, COVID-19 could also cause new health conditions: Cases of new-onset diabetes have been observed in some patients. This effect could be due to damage to the insulin-producing β cells in the pancreas, a type of islet cell.


Matthias S. Matter, University of Basel, Switzerland, Raul Andino, University of California, San Francisco, USA, Peter K. Jackson, Stanford University, CA, USA, and colleagues have investigated whether insulin-producing pancreatic β cells can be infected and harmed by SARS-CoV-2. The team evaluated the expression levels of different receptors that can mediate SARS-CoV-2 cell entry based on existing datasets and also studied the expression of these proteins in pancreatic autopsy samples. They found that ACE2 and transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2) are expressed at low levels in β cells and other SARS-CoV-2 entry factors, such as neuropilin 1 (NRP1), are expressed abundantly.


The researchers infected human islets from healthy donors with SARS-CoV-2 in vitro and found that the virus preferentially infects β cells and induces cell death, negatively affecting insulin production. They also studied pancreatic autopsy samples from nine deceased patients who had suffered severe complications related to COVID-19. Again, the virus targeted the β cells, which was confirmed by selective staining. The observed effects could influence the clinical severity of diabetes in patients with COVID-19.



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