What are the effects of COVID-19 on the Brain? Can SARS-CoV-2 enter and infect the nervous system?
In this original research, born from the collaboration between the Department of Neuroscience, the Department of Cardio-thoraco-vascular sciences and the Department of Molecular Medicine, we assess neuropathological alterations occurring in COVID-19 decedents. We have identified SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins and RNA in the nuclei of the vagus nerve and in the substantia nigra in a subset of cases. Furthermore, analyzing microglial phenotypes and their distribution in the brainstem we have found an anatomically-segregated pattern of inflammation that is more severe in COVID-19 when compared to controls who died due to other respiratory infection. While the detection of viral proteins in the vagal nuclei and the substantia nigra, associated to prominent inflammation, is particularly concerning and might represent a potential trigger for neurodegeneration, more research is needed to clarify the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the brain, particularly what occurs in long-COVID patients.
Link to the original article: Detection of SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins and genomic sequences in human brainstem nuclei | npj Parkinson's Disease (nature.com)
Link to the "behind the paper" post in the Nature Neuroscience Community: Deciphering the effects of COVID-19 on the Brain | Neuroscience Community (nature.com)
Reference: Emmi, A., Rizzo, S., Barzon, L. et al. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins and genomic sequences in human brainstem nuclei. npj Parkinsons Dis. 9, 25 (2023). doi.org/10.1038/s41531-023-00467-3