COVID-19 Causes Ciliary Dysfunction as Demonstrated by Human Intranasal Micro-Optical Coherence Tomography Imaging.

Academic Article


  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), binds via ACE2 receptors, highly expressed in ciliated cells of the nasal epithelium. Micro-optical coherence tomography (μOCT) is a minimally invasive intranasal imaging technique that can determine cellular and functional dynamics of respiratory epithelia at 1-μm resolution, enabling real time visualization and quantification of epithelial anatomy, ciliary motion, and mucus transport. We hypothesized that respiratory epithelial cell dysfunction in COVID-19 will manifest as reduced ciliated cell function and mucociliary abnormalities, features readily visualized by μOCT. Symptomatic outpatients with SARS-CoV-2 aged ≥ 18 years were recruited within 14 days of symptom onset. Data was interpreted for subjects with COVID-19 (n=13) in comparison to healthy controls (n=8). Significant reduction in functional cilia, diminished ciliary beat frequency, and abnormal ciliary activity were evident. Other abnormalities included denuded epithelium, presence of mucus rafts, and increased inflammatory cells. Our results indicate that subjects with mild but symptomatic COVID-19 exhibit functional abnormalities of the respiratory mucosa underscoring the importance of mucociliary health in viral illness and disease transmission. Ciliary imaging enables investigation of early pathogenic mechanisms of COVID-19 and may be useful for evaluating disease progression and therapeutic response.
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    Author List

  • Vijaykumar K; Leung HM; Barrios A; Fernandez-Petty CM; Solomon GM; Hathorne HY; Wade JD; Monroe K; Slaten KB; Li Q