Past research has shown that the coronavirus family can leave a lasting impact on the human brain. Coronaviruses can impact the brain by replicating inside the brain cells or by causing an autoimmune response, and it has been reported that coronaviruses can cause encephalitis-like syndromes in some rare instances. This just shows that past coronaviruses had brain-related consequences and this could be suggestive of how SARS-CoV-2 operates.
There is little data on the brain-related aspects of COVID-19 because SARS-CoV-2 emerged as a new member of the coronavirus family. However, COVID-19 patients are already reporting neurological symptoms. Some patients are feeling disoriented, nervous, and confused. These brain-related consequences of COVID-19 need to be urgently researched.
In June, researchers from the University of Strasbourg in France published a study in Radiology. The researchers wanted to find out if there were any brain abnormalities in severe COVID-19 patients.
The study was conducted on severe COVID-19 patients and ran from the 23rd of March to the 27th of April 2020 in 16 French hospitals. The researchers looked for brain abnormalities in patients with MRI technology. The patients were given gadolinium-based contrast materials for their MRI scans and then three neuroradiologists assessed the MRI images.
In regards to the MRI images, the researchers found that severe COVID-19 patients had lesions in specific regions of the brain (medial temporal lobe, white matter, and hemorrhagic lesions). Many of the patients had hemorrhagic lesions. Intracerebral hemorrhagic lesions were linked to disease severity, as those with hemorrhagic lesions were more likely to have an advanced disease stage. Furthermore, it was found that 27% of the patients had encephalopathy and 68% had high levels of inflammation markers in their blood.
“We report 37 patients with COVID-19 and abnormal brain MRIs (excluding ischemic infarcts). Three main neuroradiological patterns could be distinguished, and the presence of hemorrhage was associated with worse clinical status. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in the CSF only in one patient, and the underlying mechanisms of brain involvement remain unclear. Imaging and neurological follow up has to be undertaken in order to evaluate the prognosis of these patients,” said the authors of the research paper.
So, it seems that the researchers found that severe COVID-19 patients do have brain abnormalities as a result of coronavirus, but the researchers are not sure why this is the case yet! Doctors and researchers need to closely monitor the neurological aspect of COVID-19 as this will help them find out more.