Possible mechanisms responsible for acute coronary events in COVID-19



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Medical Hypotheses


The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is primarily a respiratory pathogen and its clinical manifestations are dominated by respiratory symptoms, the most severe of which is acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). However, COVID-19 is increasingly recognized to cause an overwhelming inflammatory response and cytokine storm leading to end organ damage. End organ damage to heart is one of the most severe complications of COVID-19 that increases the risk of death. We proposed a two-fold mechanism responsible for causing acute coronary events in patients with COVID-19 infection: Cytokine storm leading to rapid onset formation of new coronary plaques along with destabilization of pre-existing plaques and direct myocardial injury secondary to acute systemic viral infection. A well-coordinated immune response is the first line innate immunity against a viral infection. However, an uncoordinated response and hypersecretion of cytokines and chemokines lead to immune related damage to the human body. Human Coronavirus (HCoV) infection causes infiltration of inflammatory cells that cause excessive production of cytokines, proteases, coagulation factors, oxygen radicals and vasoactive molecules causing endothelial damage, disruption of fibrous cap and initiation of formation of thrombus. Systemic viral infections also cause vasoconstriction leading to narrowing of vascular lumen and stimulation of platelet activation via shear stress. The resultant cytokine storm causes secretion of hypercoagulable tissue factor without consequential increase in counter-regulatory pathways such as AT-III, activated protein C and plasminogen activator type 1. Lastly, influx of CD4+ T-cells in cardiac vasculature results in an increased production of cytokines that stimulate smooth muscle cells to migrate into the intima and generate collagen and other fibrous products leading to advancement of fatty streaks to advanced atherosclerotic lesions. Direct myocardial damage and cytokine storm leading to destabilization of pre-existing plaques and accelerated formation of new plaques are the two instigating mechanisms for acute coronary syndromes in COVID-19.



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