Nat Med. 2021 Jul 9. doi: 10.1038/s41591-021-01443-1. Online ahead of print.
Clinical evidence suggests the central nervous system is frequently impacted by SARS-CoV-2 infection, either directly or indirectly, although the mechanisms are unclear. Pericytes are perivascular cells within the brain that are proposed as SARS-CoV-2 infection points. Here we show that pericyte-like cells (PLCs), when integrated into a cortical organoid, are capable of infection with authentic SARS-CoV-2. Before infection, PLCs elicited astrocytic maturation and production of basement membrane components, features attributed to pericyte functions in vivo. While traditional cortical organoids showed little evidence of infection, PLCs within cortical organoids served as viral ‘replication hubs’, with virus spreading to astrocytes and mediating inflammatory type I interferon transcriptional responses. Therefore, PLC-containing cortical organoids (PCCOs) represent a new ‘assembloid’ model that supports astrocytic maturation as well as SARS-CoV-2 entry and replication in neural tissue; thus, PCCOs serve as an experimental model for neural infection.