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Pericytes Within A Pulmonary Neurovascular Unit in Coronavirus Disease 2019 Elicited Pathological Changes

[ Vol. 17 , Issue. 5 ]


Zhen He*   Pages 784 - 792 ( 9 )


A pericyte-centered theory suggesting that embolisms occurring within the microvasculature of a neurovascular unit that can result in either parenchymal hemorrhage or intravascular congestion is presented here. Dysfunctional microvascular pericytes are characterized by their location in the neurovascular unit, either on the arteriole or venule side. Pathophysiological and pathological changes caused by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) include pulmonary hypertension, edema, focal hemorrhage, microvascular congestion, and thrombosis. In this paper, the application of the pericytes-centered hypothesis to COVID-19 has been presented by proposing the concept of a pulmonary neurovascular unit (pNVU). The application of this concept implies that human lungs contain approximately 300 million pNVUs. This concept of existing local regulation of microvascular blood flow is supported by the observation of pathophysiology in pulmonary embolism and in acute high-altitude illness. The autonomic control seen in these three disease states matches blood flow with oxygen supply in each pNVU to maintain physiological blood oxygen saturation level. This paper illustrates how the malfunction of microvascular pericytes may cause focal hemorrhage, edema or microvascular congestion and thrombosis. A bypass existing in each pNVU would autonomically deviate blood flow from a COVID-19-affected pNVU to other healthy pNVUs. This action would prevent systemically applied medicines from reaching the therapeutic threshold in COVID-19-affected pNVUs. While testing this hypothesis with experimental evidence is urgently needed, supporting therapy aimed at improving microcirculation or rebuilding the physiological function of microvascular pericytes is recommended as a potentially effective treatment of COVID 19.


COVID-19, edema, microvascular thrombosis, pathogenic mechanism, pericyte, pulmonary hemorrhage, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary neurovascular unit.


Division of Neurotoxicology, National Center for Toxicological Research, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, AR72079

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