Vagus nerve inflammation contributes to dysautonomia in COVID-19


Dysautonomia has substantially impacted acute COVID-19 severity as well as symptom burden after recovery from COVID-19 (long COVID), yet the underlying causes remain unknown. Here, we hypothesized that vagus nerves are affected in COVID-19 which might contribute to autonomic dysfunction. We performed a histopathological characterization of postmortem vagus nerves from COVID-19 patients and controls, and detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA together with inflammatory cell infiltration composed primarily of monocytes. Furthermore, we performed RNA sequencing which revealed a strong inflammatory response of neurons, endothelial cells, and Schwann cells which correlated with SARS-CoV-2 RNA load. Lastly, we screened a clinical cohort of 323 patients to detect a clinical phenotype of vagus nerve affection and found a decreased respiratory rate in non-survivors of critical COVID-19. Our data suggest that SARS-CoV-2 induces vagus nerve inflammation followed by autonomic dysfunction which contributes to critical disease courses and might contribute to dysautonomia observed in long COVID.

Bibliographical data

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 09.2023

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© 2023. The Author(s).

PubMed 37452829