Scientists have been saying since the very start of the pandemic that the deaths caused by COVID-19 would just be the tip of the iceberg once we started learning about the other long-lasting effects, and some of those details are starting to emerge.
Already there are plenty of symptoms that have been found to linger long after infection with the disease, but a new study has uncovered what it believes to be Alzheimer’s-like changes in the brain in people who have recovered from the virus.
The Cleveland Clinic findings indicate an overlap between COVID-19 and brain changes that are common in Alzheimer’s disease, which researchers believe will be important to developing therapeutic strategies to combat cognitive impairment in some people who have had the virus.
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According to the researchers, reports of neurological complications in COVID-19 patients whose symptoms persist after the infection clears are becoming more common, suggesting that the virus could have long-lasting effects on brain function.
Lead author of the study Dr Feixiong Cheng said it was not yet well understood how the virus leads to neurological issues.
“While some studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infects brain cells directly, others found no evidence of the virus in the brain,” Dr Cheng said.
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“Identifying how COVID-19 and neurological problems are linked will be critical for developing effective preventive and therapeutic strategies to address the surge in neurocognitive impairments that we expect to see in the near future.”
In the study, the researchers harnessed artificial intelligence using existing datasets of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and COVID-19.
They measured the proximity between SARS-CoV-2 host genes/proteins and those associated with several neurological diseases.
The researchers also analysed the genetic factors that enabled SARS-COV-2 to infect brain tissues and cells.
While researchers found little evidence that the virus targets the brain directly, they discovered close network relationships between the virus and genes/proteins associated with several neurological diseases, most notably Alzheimer’s, pointing to pathways by which COVID-19 could lead to Alzheimer’s disease-like dementia.
“We discovered that SARS-CoV-2 infection significantly altered Alzheimer’s markers implicated in brain inflammation and that certain viral entry factors are highly expressed in cells in the blood-brain barrier,” explained Dr. Cheng.
“These findings indicate that the virus may impact several genes or pathways involved in neuroinflammation and brain microvascular injury, which could lead to Alzheimer’s disease-like cognitive impairment.”
The researchers also found that individuals with the greatest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s also had fewer antiviral defence genes, which could make those patients more susceptible to COVID-19.
Dr Cheng said that he hoped this research would pave the way to identify patients at the highest risk for neurological complications with COVID-19.
Are you worried about the long-term effects of COVID? Do you think there is yet more damage that scientists will uncover in the coming years? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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