COVID-19-related cardiac complications from clinical evidences to basic mechanisms: Opinion paper of the ESC Working Group on Cellular Biology of the Heart

Maurizio Pesce, Piergiuseppe Agostoni, Hans-Erik Bøtker, Bianca Brundel, Sean M Davidson, Raffaele De Caterina, Peter Ferdinandy, Henrique Girao, Mariann Gyöngyösi, Jean-Sebastien Hulot, Sandrine Lecour, Cinzia Perrino, Rainer Schulz, Joost Pg Sluijter, Sabine Steffens, Ivan Tancevski, Can Gollmann-Tepeköylü, Carsten Tschöpe, Sophie van Linthout, Rosalinda Madonna

Published: 1 September 2021


The pandemic of coronavirus disease (COVID)-19 is a global threat, causing high mortality, especially in the elderly. The main symptoms and the primary cause of death are related to interstitial pneumonia. Viral entry also into myocardial cells mainly via the angiotensin converting enzyme type 2 (ACE2) receptor and excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, however, also make the heart susceptible to injury. In addition to the immediate damage caused by the acute inflammatory response, the heart may also suffer from long-term consequences of COVID-19, potentially causing a post-pandemic increase in cardiac complications. Although the main cause of cardiac damage in COVID-19 remains coagulopathy with micro- (and to a lesser extent macro-) vascular occlusion, open questions remain about other possible modalities of cardiac dysfunction, such as direct infection of myocardial cells, effects of cytokines storm, and mechanisms related to enhanced coagulopathy. In this opinion paper, we focus on these lesser appreciated possibilities and propose experimental approaches that could provide a more comprehensive understanding of the cellular and molecular bases of cardiac injury in COVID-19 patients. We first discuss approaches to characterize cardiac damage caused by possible direct viral infection of cardiac cells, followed by formulating hypotheses on how to reproduce and investigate the hyperinflammatory and pro-thrombotic conditions observed in the heart of COVID-19 patients using experimental in vitro systems. Finally, we elaborate on strategies to discover novel pathology biomarkers using omics platforms.

Full Access Link: Cardiovascular Research