(ORDO NEWS) — A small study published by scientists at the US National Institutes of Health suggests that the immune response caused by coronavirus infection damages blood vessels in the brain and may be responsible for long-term symptoms of COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed millions of lives, but many people who have successfully recovered are still suffering from the consequences of the disease.
The new work was based on autopsy findings from the brains of nine people who died from COVID-19.
Instead of signs of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the brains of the deceased, scientists found people’s own antibodies that attacked the cells lining the brain’s blood vessels, causing inflammation and damage.
This finding may explain why some people continue to experience the effects of the infection, including headache, fatigue, loss of taste and smell, inability to sleep, and brain fog. But most importantly, this work can help develop new treatments for long-covid.
How was the study
Avindra Nath, senior author of the paper, said: “Patients often develop neurological complications with COVID-19, but the underlying pathophysiological process is not well understood.
We had previously shown damage to blood vessels and inflammation in the brains of patients at autopsy, but we did not understand the reason for this. I think we now have an important insight into the sequence of events.”
As part of the work, 9 people aged 24 to 73 years were studied. The scientists chose them because the scans showed signs of damage to the blood vessels in the brain.
Their brains were compared to a control group (10 people), and the team studied neuroinflammation and immune responses using a technique called immunohistochemistry.
Scientists have found that antibodies produced against COVID-19 mistakenly attacked cells that form the “blood-brain barrier,” a structure designed to prevent harmful substances from entering the brain. Damage to these cells can cause proteins to leak, bleed, and form blood clots, which increases the risk of stroke.
Leaks also cause immune cells called macrophages to rush to the site of injury to repair damage, causing inflammation. The team found that normal cellular processes in the attacked areas were severely disrupted, with implications for processes such as removing toxins and regulating metabolism.
These results provide insight into the brain processes of patients with long-term neurological symptoms, which could form the basis for new treatments. For example, a drug that aims to restore the blood-brain barrier.
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