COVID-19 – prime time for microphysiological systems, as illustrated for the brain

Main Article Content

Ian Kang
Lena Smirnova
Jens H. Kuhn
Helena T. Hogberg
Nicole C. Kleinstreuer
Thomas Hartung


The development of therapies for and preventions against infectious diseases depends on the availability of disease models. Bioengineering of human organoids and organs-on-chips is one extremely promising avenue of research. These miniature, laboratory-grown organ systems have been broadly used during the ongoing, unprecedented coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to show the many effects of the etiologic agent, severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) on human organs. In contrast, exposure of most animals either did not result in infection or caused mild clinical signs – not the severe course of the infection suffered by many humans. This article illuminates the opportunities of microphysiological systems (MPS) to study COVID-19 in vitro, with a focus on brain cell infection and its translational rel­evance to COVID-19 effects on the human brain. Neurovirulence of SARS-CoV-2 has been reproduced in different types of human brain organoids by 10 groups, consistently showing infection of a small portion of brain cells accompanied by limited viral replication. This mirrors increasingly recognized neurological manifestations in COVID-19 patients (evidence of virus infection and brain-specific antibody formation in brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid). The pathogenesis of neuro­logical signs, their long-term consequences, and possible interventions remain unclear, but future MPS technologies offer prospects to address these open questions.

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How to Cite
Kang, I., Smirnova, L., Kuhn, J. H., Hogberg, H. T., Kleinstreuer, N. C. and Hartung, T. (2021) “COVID-19 – prime time for microphysiological systems, as illustrated for the brain”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation, 38(4), pp. 535-549. doi: 10.14573/altex.2110131.
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