Multiple tissues of the male genital tract can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study in large animal models. The study, in SARS-CoV-2 infected-rhesus macaques, revealed the prostate, vasculature of testicles, penis and testicles were all infected with the virus.
The surprising discovery was made utilizing a PET scan specially designed to reveal sites of infection spreading over time in a whole-body scan. Scientists didn’t know what they would find, but they expected to see the virus in the lungs and high up in the nose near the brain because people were experiencing loss of taste and smell.
“But the signal that jumped out at us was the complete spread through the male genital tract,” said lead investigator Thomas Hope, professor of cell and developmental biology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. “We had no idea we would find it there.”
“These results indicate that the testicular pain, erectile dysfunction, hypogonadism, reduced sperm count and quality, and decreased fertility associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection are a direct consequence of infection of cells of the male reproductive tract and not indirect mechanisms such as fever and inflammation,” Hope said.
The evidence that infection with SARS-CoV-2 can negatively impact male sexual health and fertility is increasing every day. But scientists didn’t know the reason and wondered if the cause was fever and inflammation.
“We just didn’t understand why it had this negative impact until this study,” Hope said. He noted viruses such as mumps, Ebola, Zika, SARS-COV-1 and other viruses also can infect tissues of the male genital tract and negatively impact fertility. Mumps infection is well known to potentially cause male sterility.
The new study shows how the virus can cause pathology in the prostate, penis, testicles and testicular vasculature (blood vessels), Hope said.
The study is posted as a preprint on bioRxiv, meaning it should be considered preliminary research until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Read more at Northwestern Medicine
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