Scientists have found that Covid-19 infection can cause changes in calcium channels that can affect how the heart beats which can also trigger inflammation and oxidative stress in the heart.
In heart tissue from patients who had Covid-19, the team from Columbia University observed increases in oxidative stress (harmful production of unstable molecules) and signals of inflammation, as well as changes in calcium.
They also detected adverse changes to a protein called RyR2, which is responsible for regulating the heart's calcium ion levels.
The heart muscle, like all muscle cells, needs calcium ions to contract.
The heart's system for managing calcium ions is essential for the coordinated contractions of the atria and ventricles that pump blood throughout the body.
When calcium in the heart becomes dysregulated, it can cause arrhythmias or heart failure.
Andrew Marks, a cardiologist and biophysics professor at Columbia University, Steven Reiken, a research scientist in Marks' lab, and colleagues were set to present their work at the annual Biophysical Society Meeting in San Diego, California on February 20.
To study changes to the heart further, they used a mouse model infected with Covid-19.
They observed changes to the heart tissue including immune cell infiltration, collagen deposition (indicative of injury), death of heart cells, and blood clots.
"The more awareness you build around particular aspects of a disease, the more likely you are to improve the care of patients. And doctors should be aware of heart changes related to Covid-19 infections and should be looking for them," Marks said.
Ultimately, "we want to really figure out what's causing the heart disease and how to fix it," Marks added.
Understanding changes at the molecular level may reveal drug targets that could improve cardiac symptoms related to Covid-19 and help healthcare professionals diagnose and treat these issues more effectively.