What causes Covid brain fog? This study has answer; may help devise new treatments for long Covid

Washington, US Updated: Jul 07, 2022, 03:26 AM(IST)

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This particular discovery could explain why some people have those lingering effects from infection and the findings may also help devise new treatments for long Covid 

The after-effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection have been immense. People have reported neurological symptoms, including difficulty thinking or concentrating. There have been reports of headaches, sleep problems, dizziness, pins-and-needles feeling, loss of smell or taste and depression, etc. 

But the question is, why do some people have lingering effects from infection? Why does Covid infection sometimes result in an inability to sleep as well as "brain fog"? The scientists at the US National Institutes of Health have published a small new study that attempts to answer these questions. 

The study suggests that the immune response triggered by Covid infections damages the brain's blood vessels and could be responsible for long Covid symptoms. 

The paper was published in the journal Brain. The findings are based on brain autopsies from nine people who died suddenly after contracting the virus. 

The team found it was the people's own antibodies that attacked the cells lining the brain's blood vessels, causing inflammation and damage. 

It is said that this particular discovery could explain why some people have those lingering effects from infection and the findings may also help devise new treatments for long Covid. 

"Patients often develop neurological complications with COVID-19, but the underlying pathophysiological process is not well understood," said NIH scientist Avindra Nath, who is the paper's senior author. 

In the statement, he further added, "We had previously shown blood vessel damage and inflammation in patients' brains at autopsy, but we didn't understand the cause of the damage. I think in this paper we've gained important insight into the cascade of events." 

More about the study

After analysing reports of nine individuals, aged 24 to 73, the scientists discovered that antibodies produced against Covid-19 mistakenly targeted cells that form the "blood-brain barrier". 

It is understood that damage to these cells can cause leakage of proteins, bleeding and clots, which elevates the risk of stroke. The leaks also trigger immune cells called macrophages to rush to the site to repair damage, causing inflammation. 

Normal cellular processes in the areas targeted by the attack were severely disrupted, it was found. It had implications for things such as their ability to de-toxify and to regulate metabolism. 

Most importantly, the latest findings can help the experts and scientists to study more about patients with long-term neurological symptoms. 

There are possibilities that new treatments can be developed, such as a drug that targets the build-up of antibodies on the blood-brain barrier. 

Nath said, "It is quite possible that this same immune response persists in Long COVID patients resulting in neuronal injury." 

He added that this would mean that a drug that dials down that immune response could help those patients. He said, "So these findings have very important therapeutic implications." 

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