How the gut may help to drive COVID-19

New findings from Flinders University have demonstrated a molecular link between COVID-19 and serotonin cells in the gut.

The research could help provide further clues to what could be driving COVID-19 infection and disease severity and supports previous evidence that antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), could reduce the severity of COVID symptoms.

COVID-19 displays an array of symptoms, which can regularly include gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhoea. Recent research has indicated that these gut symptoms in COVID-19 patients worsen with the severity of the disease, and this is linked to heightened gut-derived serotonin, released to cause gut dysfunction, increasing the body’s immune response and potentially worsening patient outcomes.

Published in the world’s leading gastrointestinal research journal Gut, this new collaborative study involved three Flinders research teams, including teams led by ARC DECRA Fellow Dr Alyce Martin and FAME Director of Bioinformatics and Human-Microbe Interactions, Professor Robert Edwards.

“Our study endeavoured to understand whether the gut could be a site of disease transmission and what genes might be associated with the virus entering the cells lining the gut wall,” says study senior author Professor Damien Keating, Deputy Director of the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute and Head of the Gut Sensory Systems research group.

The researchers looked at gene expression amongst the different cell types that line the gut wall, analysing whole genome sequences from thousands of individual cells from within the intestine.

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