The SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) and the orthoreovirus p15 cause neuronal and glial fusion

Ramon Martinez-Marmol, Rosina Giordano-Santini, Eva Kaulich, Ann-Na Cho, Md. Asrafuzzaman Riyadh, Emilija Robinson, Giuseppe Balistreri, Frederic A. Meunier, Yazi D. Ke, Lars M. Ittner, Massimo A. Hilliard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Numerous enveloped viruses use specialized surface molecules called fusogens to enter host cells. During virus replication, these fusogens decorate the host cells membrane enabling them the ability to fuse with neighboring cells, forming syncytia that the viruses use to propagate while evading the immune system. Many of these viruses, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), infect the brain and may cause serious neurological symptoms through mechanisms which remain poorly understood. Here we show that expression of either the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein or p15 protein from the baboon orthoreovirus is sufficient to induce fusion between interconnected neurons, as well as between neurons and glial cells. This phenomenon is observed across species, from nematodes to mammals, including human embryonic stem cells-derived neurons and brain organoids. We show that fusion events are progressive, can occur between distant neurites, and lead to the formation of multicellular syncytia. Finally, we reveal that in addition to intracellular molecules, fusion events allow diffusion and movement of large organelles such as mitochondria between fused neurons. Our results provide important mechanistic insights into how SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses could affect the nervous system circuitries causing neurological symptoms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 2 Sept 2021


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