NIH Researchers Uncover Brain Damage in COVID-19 Patients, Despite No Infection of the Brain

NIH Researchers Uncover Brain Damage in COVID-19 Patients, Despite No Infection of the Brain

In an in-depth examine, NIH researchers constantly discovered blood vessel harm in the brains of COVID-19 sufferers however no indicators of SARS-CoV-2 infections. Here’s a high-resolution scan of a affected person’s mind stem. Arrows level to gentle and darkish spots which are indicative of blood vessel harm noticed in the examine. Credit score: Courtesy of NIH/NINDS

Outcomes from a examine of 19 deceased sufferers suggests mind harm is a byproduct of a affected person’s sickness.

In an in-depth examine of how COVID-19 impacts a affected person’s mind, Nationwide Institutes of Well being researchers constantly noticed hallmarks of harm attributable to thinning and leaky mind blood vessels in tissue samples from sufferers who died shortly after contracting the illness. As well as, they noticed no indicators of SARS-CoV-2 in the tissue samples, suggesting the harm was not attributable to a direct viral assault on the mind. The outcomes had been printed as a correspondence in the New England Journal of Drugs.

“We discovered that the brains of sufferers who contract an infection from SARS-CoV-2 could also be prone to microvascular blood vessel harm. Our outcomes recommend that this can be attributable to the physique’s inflammatory response to the virus” mentioned Avindra Nath, M.D., medical director at the NIH’s Nationwide Institute of Neurological Issues and Stroke (NINDS) and the senior writer of the examine. “We hope these outcomes will assist docs perceive the full spectrum of issues sufferers might undergo in order that we are able to provide you with higher therapies.”

Though COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, sufferers typically expertise neurological issues together with complications, delirium, cognitive dysfunction, dizziness, fatigue, and loss of the sense of scent. The illness might also trigger sufferers to undergo strokes and different neuropathologies. A number of research have proven that the illness could cause irritation and blood vessel harm. In a single of these research, the researchers discovered proof of small quantities of SARS-CoV-2 in some sufferers’ brains. Nonetheless, scientists are nonetheless making an attempt to know how the illness impacts the mind.

On this examine, the researchers carried out an in-depth examination of mind tissue samples from 19 sufferers who had died after experiencing COVID-19 between March and July 2020. Samples from 16 of the sufferers had been supplied by the Workplace of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York Metropolis whereas the different 3 circumstances had been supplied by the division of pathology at the College of Iowa Faculty of Drugs, Iowa Metropolis. The sufferers died at a variety of ages, from 5 to 73 years previous. They died inside a number of hours to 2 months after reporting signs. Many sufferers had a number of danger components, together with diabetes, weight problems, and heart problems. Eight of the sufferers had been discovered useless at house or in public settings. One other three sufferers collapsed and died abruptly.

Initially, the researchers used a particular, high-powered magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner that’s 4 to 10 occasions extra delicate than most MRI scanners, to look at samples of the olfactory bulbs and brainstems from every affected person. These areas are considered extremely prone to COVID-19. Olfactory bulbs management our sense of scent whereas the brainstem controls our respiratory and coronary heart fee. The scans revealed that each areas had an abundance of vivid spots, referred to as hyperintensities, that usually point out irritation, and darkish spots, referred to as hypointensities, that signify bleeding.

The researchers then used the scans as a information to look at the spots extra carefully underneath a microscope. They discovered that the vivid spots contained blood vessels that had been thinner than regular and generally leaking blood proteins, like fibrinogen, into the mind. This appeared to set off an immune response. The spots had been surrounded by T cells from the blood and the mind’s personal immune cells referred to as microglia. In distinction, the darkish spots contained each clotted and leaky blood vessels however no immune response.

“We had been fully stunned. Initially, we anticipated to see harm that’s attributable to a scarcity of oxygen. As an alternative, we noticed multifocal areas of harm that’s normally related to strokes and neuroinflammatory illnesses,” mentioned Dr. Nath.

Lastly, the researchers noticed no indicators of an infection in the mind tissue samples regardless that they used a number of strategies for detecting genetic materials or proteins from SARS-CoV-2.

“Up to now, our outcomes recommend that the harm we noticed might not have been not attributable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus immediately infecting the mind,” mentioned Dr. Nath. “In the future, we plan to check how COVID-19 harms the mind’s blood vessels and whether or not that produces some of the short- and long-term signs we see in sufferers.”

Reference: “Microvascular Harm in the Brains of Sufferers with COVID-19” by Myoung-Hwa Lee, Daniel P. Perl, Govind Nair, Wenxue Li, Dragan Maric, Helen Murray, Stephen J. Dodd, Alan P. Koretsky, Jason A. Watts, Vivian Cheung, Eliezer Masliah, Iren Horkayne-Szakaly, Robert Jones, Michelle N. Stram, Joel Moncur, Marco Hefti, Rebecca D. Folkerth and Avindra Nath, 30 December 2020, New England Journal of Drugs.
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2033369

This examine was supported by NIH Intramural Analysis Program at the Nationwide Institute of Neurological Issues and Stroke (NS003130) and an NIH grant (NS109284).

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