Press release Hubrecht Institute

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 infects cells of the intestine

1 May 2020

Researchers from the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht, Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam, and Maastricht University in the Netherlands have found that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, can infect cells of the intestine and multiply there.

Using state-of-the-art cell culture models of the human intestine, the researchers have successfully propagated the virus in vitro, and monitored the response of the cells to the virus, providing a new cell culture model for the study of COVID-19. These findings could explain the observation that approximately one third of COVID-19 patients experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, and the fact that the virus often can be detected in stool samples. The results of this study were published in the scientific journal Science on the 1st of May 2020. 

Patients with COVID-19 show a variety of symptoms associated with respiratory organs - such as coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, and fever - and the disease is transmitted via tiny droplets that are spread mainly through coughing and sneezing. One third of the patients however also have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and diarrhea. In addition, the virus can be detected in human stool long after the respiratory symptoms have been resolved. This suggests that the virus can also spread via so-called 'fecal-oral transmission'. 

Though the respiratory and gastrointestinal organs may seem very different, there are some key similarities. A particularly interesting similarity is the presence of the ACE2 receptor, the receptor through which the COVID-19 causing SARS-CoV-2 virus can enter the cells. The inside of the intestine is loaded with ACE2 receptors. However, until now it was unknown whether intestinal cells could actually get infected and produce virus particles.

More information

Read the full article on the website of Hubrecht Institute.

Hubrecht Institute

The Hubrecht Institute – an Academy research institute – focused on developmental and stem cell biology. It encompasses 20 research groups that perform fundamental and multidisciplinary research, both in healthy systems and disease models. Since 2008, the institute is affiliated with the University Medical Center Utrecht, advancing the translation of research to the clinic. The Hubrecht Institute has a partnership with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

Logo Hubrecht Instituut