Erika Cecon et al.
COVID-19 is a complex disease with short- and long-term respiratory, inflammatory and neurological symptoms that are triggered by the infection with SARS-CoV-2. Invasion of the brain by SARS-CoV-2 has been observed in humans and is postulated to be involved in post COVID condition. Brain infection is particularly pronounced in the K18-hACE2 mouse model of COVID-19. Here, we show that treatment of K18-hACE2 mice with melatonin and two melatonin-derived marketed drugs, agomelatine and ramelteon, prevent SARS-CoV-2 entry in the brain thereby reducing virus-induced damage of small cerebral vessels, immune cell infiltration and brain inflammation. Brain entry of SARS-CoV-2 through endothelial cells is prevented by melatonin through allosteric binding to human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which interferes with the cell entry receptor function of ACE2 for SARS-CoV-2. Our findings open new perspectives for the repurposing of melatonergic drugs in the prevention of brain infection by SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19-related long-term neurological symptoms.