Brain damage caused by COVID-19 is similar to that caused by strokes, according to a new study.
Research published in Nature Neuroscience on Thursday described how COVID-19 can cause damage by disrupting blood flow in the brain.
The effect on blood vessels in the brain was “compatible with a cerebral small-vessel disease,” an umbrella term for brain diseases including strokes, the study said.
The paper authored by scientists in Germany said that up to 76 percent of COVID-19 patients may suffer cognitive impairment and other psychiatric symptoms more than four weeks after infection.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans revealed that people with severe COVID-19 infections had more ‘string vessels’ through which blood could not pass, according to the study titled ‘The SARS-CoV-2 main protease Mpro causes microvascular brain pathology by cleaving NEMO in brain endothelial cells’.
String vessels represent the leftover tissue after cells die in blood vessels, making it impossible for blood to pass through them.
COVID-19 can also directly cause strokes, the study said.
Up to 84 percent of people with severe COVID-19 show neurological symptoms including loss of smell, epileptic seizures, strokes, loss of consciousness, and confusion.
Despite the evidence for COVID-19 causing brain damage, researchers say that it is still a matter of debate whether or not the virus directly infects the brain.
That being said, authors of the study detected COVID-19 genetic material in the form of viral genomes in the brain and spinal fluid of patients, suggesting that the COVID-19 virus can gain access to the brain.
COVID-19 RNA material was found in blood vessels in the brain, suggesting that the virus may spread from the respiratory system to the brain through a patient’s bloodstream.
The study also identified a type of protein called receptor-interacting protein kinase (RIPK) as a potential target for therapeutic treatment of COVID-19’s neurological effects.