Therapeutic implications of SARS-CoV-2 dysregulation of the gut-brain-lung axis

Samuel D. Johnson, Omalla A. Olwenyi, Namita Bhyravbhatla, Michellie Thurman, Kabita Pandey, Elizabeth A. Klug, Morgan Johnston, Shetty Ravi Dyavar, Arpan Acharya, Anthony T. Podany, Courtney V. Fletcher, Mahesh Mohan, Kamal Singh, Siddappa N. Byrareddy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The emergence and rapid spread of novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused over 180 million confirmed cases resulting in over 4 million deaths worldwide with no clear end in sight for the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic. Most SARS-CoV-2 exposed individuals experience mild to moderate symptoms, including fever, cough, fatigue, and loss of smell and taste. However, many individuals develop pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock, and multiorgan dysfunction. In addition to these primarily respiratory symptoms, SARS-CoV-2 can also infiltrate the central nervous system, which may damage the blood-brain barrier and the neuron's synapses. Resultant inflammation and neurodegeneration in the brain stem can further prevent efferent signaling to cranial nerves, leading to the loss of anti-inflammatory signaling and normal respiratory and gastrointestinal functions. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 can infect enterocytes resulting in gut damage followed by microbial dysbiosis and translocation of bacteria and their byproducts across the damaged epithelial barrier. As a result, this exacerbates pro-inflammatory responses both locally and systemically, resulting in impaired clinical outcomes. Recent evidence has highlighted the complex interactions that mutually modulate respiratory, neurological, and gastrointestinal function. In this review, we discuss the ways SARS-CoV-2 potentially disrupts the gut-brain-lung axis. We further highlight targeting specific responses to SARS-CoV-2 for the development of novel, urgently needed therapeutic interventions. Finally, we propose a prospective related to the individuals from Low- and Middle-Income countries. Here, the underlying propensity for heightened gut damage/microbial translocation is likely to result in worse clinical outcomes during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4763-4783
Number of pages21
JournalWorld Journal of Gastroenterology
Issue number29
StatePublished - Aug 7 2021


  • Brain
  • Gut
  • Lungs
  • Microbiome
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Therapeutics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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