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The SARS-CoV-2 receptor, ACE2, is found on pericytes, contractile cells enwrapping capillaries that regulate brain, heart and kidney blood flow. ACE2 converts vasoconstricting angiotensin II into vasodilating angiotensin-(1-7). In brain slices from hamster, which has an ACE2 sequence similar to human ACE2, angiotensin II evoked a small pericyte-mediated capillary constriction via AT1 receptors, but evoked a large constriction when the SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain (RBD, original Wuhan variant) was present. A mutated non-binding RBD did not potentiate constriction. A similar RBD-potentiated capillary constriction occurred in human cortical slices, and was evoked in hamster brain slices by pseudotyped virions expressing SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This constriction reflects an RBD-induced decrease in the conversion of angiotensin II to angiotensin-(1-7) mediated by removal of ACE2 from the cell surface membrane, and was mimicked by blocking ACE2. The clinically-used drug losartan inhibited the RBD-potentiated constriction. Thus, AT1 receptor blockers could be protective in Covid-19 by preventing pericyte-mediated blood flow reductions in the brain, and perhaps the heart and kidney.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain : a journal of neurology

Publication Date



Department of Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, UK.