Autopsy: COVID brains similar to those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s

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How coronavirus could attack brains of some patients

Studies have shown COVID-19 can cause brain complications in some patients’ brains, from memory problems to strokes. A new study has found the brains of people who died from COVID-19 were remarkably similar to the brains of people who die from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, showing inflammation and disrupted circuitry, researchers reported.

“The brains of patients who died from severe COVID-19 showed profound molecular markers of inflammation, even though those patients didn’t have any reported clinical signs of neurological impairment,” study co-senior author Tony Wyss-Coray, a professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University, said in a press release.

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According to Wyss-Coray, about a third of hospitalized COVID-19 patients report neurological symptoms, such as fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating and depression, and these problems continue for long haul patients even when they’ve recovered from COVID.

For their study, his team analyzed brain tissue from eight people who died of COVID-19 and 14 who died of other causes.

The researchers found significant inflammation in the brains of the deceased COVID-19 patients. However, their brain tissue showed no signs of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Wyss-Coray added that scientists disagree about whether the virus is present in COVID-19 patients’ brains.

“We used the same tools they’ve used — as well as other, more definitive ones — and really looked hard for the virus’s presence,” he said in a Stanford news release. “And we couldn’t find it.”

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“Viral infection appears to trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body that may cause inflammatory signaling across the blood-brain barrier, which in turn could trip off neuro-inflammation in the brain,” Wyss-Coray said.

“It’s likely that many COVID-19 patients, especially those reporting or exhibiting neurological problems or those who are hospitalized, have these neuro-inflammatory markers we saw in the people we looked at who had died from the disease,” he added.

“Our findings may help explain the brain fog, fatigue and other neurological and psychiatric symptoms of long COVID,” he concluded.

An unedited manuscript of the study has been accepted for publication in the journal Nature. You can read it here.

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