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Vivian Xie
5 Sep 2022

Gut instinct: molecular link between COVID-19 and serotonin cells in the gut

New research may provide further evidence of the gut’s role in SARS-CoV-2 infection and disease severity with a molecular link between serotonin-producing cells in the gut and COVID-19 disease severity.

Researchers at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, have demonstrated a potential molecular link between COVID-19 and serotonin cells in the gut, suggesting that gut health may have a role to play in driving COVID-19 infection.

The collaborative study investigated gene expression amongst various different cell types lining the gut wall, sequencing and analysing whole genomes from thousands of individuals cells within the intestine. Specialised cells in the gut that synthesised and released serotonin were also discovered to possess a highly enriched expression of a specific SARS-CoV-2 receptor, and were the only type of cells to express all genes associated with COVID-19.  

The research may provide further insight into what drives COVID-19 infection and disease severity, potentially supporting previous evidence suggesting antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors could reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms after infection. 

Damien Keating, professor and Deputy Director of the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute and Head of the Gut Sensory Systems research group, commented: “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.” As the exact site of infection and primary drivers of COVID-19 severity are yet to be fully understood, the researchers behind this study hope to provide important information on the gut’s role in the virus. “Our study adds further evidence that COVID-19 is far more likely to infect cells in the gut and increase serotonin levels through direct effects on the specific gut cells, potentially worsening disease outcomes,” added Keating. “As COVID-19 continues to circulate, further research will be required to advance our understanding of the gut’s role in the virus and continue to find treatment options to work alongside vaccinations.” 

The study was published in leading gastrointestinal research journal Gut. 

Want to know more about the gut and how it affects overall health? Read our Consumer health trends webinar roundup on the gut microbiome, or watch the webinar itself on-demand.

Source: How the gut may help to drive COVID-19 – News ( 

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