Explained: How Covid-19 Affects Human Kidney Cells

Researchers studied human kidney cells in the lab to examine the effects of Covid-19 on kidney health. The results are published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN).

Many people who develop Covid-19 also experience kidney damage, but until now it was not clear whether this was a direct result of a viral infection or a consequence of a other condition or the body’s response to infection. To investigate, a team led by Benjamin Dekel (Sheba Medical Center, Israel) grew human kidney cells in lab dishes and infected them with SARS-CoV-2. They found that

  • The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can infect and replicate in human kidney cells, but this usually does not lead to cell death.
  • Kidney cells that already show lesion characteristics may be more easily infected and develop additional lesions.

Prior to infection, cells contained high levels of interferon signaling molecules, and the infection stimulated an inflammatory response that increased these molecules. In contrast, infection of kidney cells deficient in these molecules resulted in cell death, suggesting a protective effect. The cells from these experiments were grown as a three-dimensional spheroid that mimics a healthy kidney or a two-dimensional layer that mimics cells from a severely injured kidney. Cells that mimicked a severely injured kidney were more prone to infection and further injury, but not cell death.

“The data indicates that the virus is unlikely to be a leading cause of acute kidney failure seen in COVID-19 patients. This implies that if such an injury occurs in the kidney for whatever reason, the virus could jump on the wagon to escalate it. Therefore, if we are able to limit the common scenario of acute kidney injury in the first place, then it might be possible to minimize the potential damage caused by the virus, ”said Dr Dekel, quoted by ASN.

Source: American Society of Nephrology

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