COVID-19 Linked to Detectable Brain Changes: Study

WAs the world is learning to live with COVID-19, scientists still have many unanswered questions about how the infection affects the body and brain, not just when people are sick, but over the long term.

In a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, researchers report changes in the brain among people who have recovered from COVID-19.

The scientists performed MRI scans of the brains of 46 people who had had COVID-19 in the past six months and compared them to scans of 30 people who had never been infected. They found that most people who had recovered from COVID-19 had changes in the circulation of small blood vessels in the frontal lobe and brainstem areas, which are involved in higher-order cognitive abilities, such as language expression. and voluntary movements. Compared to the control group, this group showed reduced circulation in these microvessels.

It’s not yet clear exactly how that might translate into daily activities; the investigators did not follow up with detailed analyzes of cognitive function in the two groups. But Bharat Biswal, a professor of biomedical engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a co-investigator on the research, says the team is exploring how these changes might affect other functions. Some of the participants, for example, had high blood pressure or other chronic conditions that could also play a role in how COVID-19 affected their brains, and the scientists are investigating whether people with such underlying health conditions showed different levels. of brain changes compared to those without these conditions.

The study builds on previous work by Biswal and colleagues, which documented structural changes in the brain that distinguished people who had been hospitalized and recovered from COVID-19 from those who had not been infected. That study found changes in the brain’s limbic system and hippocampus, which oversee emotional and behavioral activities, as well as memory.

Taken together, Biswal says, the results “provide an initial idea of ​​where to look and what parameters to look for” for scientists studying the effects of Long COVID. He and his team hope to follow the volunteers in the study for longer to better document the duration of the changes.

“COVID-19 has multidimensional effects on the body,” he says, including on the brain. And although scientists have not yet investigated people who have been reinfected, multiple episodes of COVID-19 can also cause cumulative changes in various systems in the body. Biswal says he is “somewhat concerned” about how reinfections “could show up in the brain and other organs.” There are still more studies to be done to understand how COVID-19 affects the brain and the body.”

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