COVID-19 can cause changes in the brain
The new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can attack the brain and cause indirect damage. SARS-CoV-2 could be detected in the brain of around one in two people who die from COVID-19 and has been examined in an ongoing German study. However, the damage to health does not appear to be caused by the virus itself, but by the immune response to the virus.
A German research team has proven that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can also affect the brain. (Image: dTosh / stock.adobe.com)
A joint research team from the Institute of Forensic Medicine, the Institute of Medical Microbiology, Virology and Hygiene as well as the Neurology Clinic and Polyclinic of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) examined 43 people who died infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to gain more in-depth knowledge about COVID-19 to obtain. Their results were recently presented in the famous journal “The Lancet Neurology”.
SARS-CoV-2 can affect the brain
According to the results of the autopsy, SARS-CoV-2 triggers an immune response, which is a possible explanation for the neurological symptoms that may occur during COVID-19 disease. The working group around Professor Dr. Markus Glatzel was able to detect the coronavirus in 21 of the 43 cases in the brain. According to the researchers, the brain must be one of the organs potentially infected with SARS-CoV-2.
The virus only causes indirect damage to the brain
The team found viral proteins in the brainstem and cranial nerves that originate from the brainstem. Interestingly, the changes in the brain were independent of viral load. Instead, the team attributes the brain damage to an immune response to the virus. The working group concludes that inflammatory cells in the brain may be involved in the development of neurological symptoms.
It has long been suspected that SARS-CoV-2 can damage the brain. Until now, however, it was not known whether the pathogen itself affects and spreads in the brain. “We have now been able to show that it is not the new type of coronavirus itself that damages the brain, but that the neurological symptoms are probably a side effect of the viral infection,” Professor Dr. Glatzel said in a press release on the autopsy reports.
What neurological problems are possible?
“In addition to pulmonary, heart and kidney complications, COVID-19 can also lead to neurological symptoms,” Glatzel explains. The spectrum of these symptoms is wide, from diffuse complaints of mild severity to severe strokes.
“The clear detection of the virus in individual cells and nerves, indicating a localized increase and alteration of specific brain functions,” adds Professor Dr. Martin Aepfelbacher of the study team.
Immune reaction in the brain first detected in COVID-19
“Usually, COVID-19 patients exhibit a drastically altered immune response, especially in the blood,” Prof. Dr. Marco Prinz added. The joint task force has now been able to demonstrate a clear inflammatory response in the brain, which was not known at this point.
Who was examined?
The study looked at 16 women and 27 men who died from COVID-19. The patients were on average 76 years old and had the typical previous illnesses that are often seen in deaths from COVID-19 in Germany. The researchers stress that more research is needed to clarify the causes of the neurological symptoms of COVID-19 so that appropriate treatment options can be developed. (v)
Author and source information
This text conforms to the requirements of specialized medical literature, medical directives and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.
Graduate Editor (FH) Volker Blasek
Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf: Changes in the brain with COVID-19 infection (published: October 6, 2020), uke.deakob Matschke, Markus Glatzel et. Al. Neuropathology of COVID-19 patients in Germany: a series of post-mortem cases; in: The Lancet Neurology, 2020, thelancet.com
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a visit to the doctor.