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  • Does COVID-19 Affect the Brain?

Does COVID-19 Affect the Brain?

Jan 17 2021 Read 1696 Times

New research from the University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine strongly suggests the SARS-CoV-2 virus infiltrates the brain and can have a negative impact on cognitive function. In mice trails researchers observed the spike protein, also known as the S1 protein, crossing the blood-brain barrier and entering the central organ of the human nervous system. The findings could help explain why an increasing number of COVID-19 patients are experiencing cognitive symptoms, including fatigue and brain fog.

Crossing the blood-brain barrier

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, with corresponding author William A. Banks explaining how the S1 protein triggers an inflammatory response in the brain. “The S1 protein likely causes the brain to release cytokines and inflammatory products," says Banks, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Triggering a cytokine storm

The extreme inflammation caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is known as a cytokine storm and sends the immune system into overdrive. Fatigue and brain fog are side-effects of the cytokine storm tripped by the HIV virus, an outcome that Banks and the team wanted to explore in COVID-19 patients. The similarities between the gp 120 protein in HIV-1 and the S1 protein in SARS-CoV2 were profund, with both using ‘arms’ to latch onto receptors, infiltrate cells and cross the blood-brain barrier.

“It was like déjà vu," said Banks, who has led extensive research into the HIV-1 virus.

Health experts stress cognitive danger of COVID-19

In light of the new research, Banks reminds people COVID-19 is not a virus to take lightly. Symptoms extend far beyond respiratory problems, with the research suggesting cognitive function is also at risk.

“We know that when you have the COVID infection you have trouble breathing and that's because there's infection in your lung, but an additional explanation is that the virus enters the respiratory centers of the brain and causes problems there as well," adds Banks. “You do not want to mess with this virus," he said. "Many of the effects that the COVID virus has could be accentuated or perpetuated or even caused by virus getting in the brain and those effects could last for a very long time.”

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