SARS-CoV-2 may also cause brain damage: Amsterdam researchers
The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 may be even more dangerous than thought. In addition to affecting the lungs and various other organs, the virus also affects the brain, according to a study by Amsterdam UMC researchers published in The Lancet Microbe.
Pathologist Paul van der Valk and his team studied the brains of 11 patients who died of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. They found that in 10 of the patients, the virus left clear marks in the brain. Immune cells, called T-lymphocytes, were discovered in their brains, while these cells definitely do not belong there, Van der Valk explained to Nieuwsuur.
"These are cells that are normally kept out of the brain," Van der Valk said. "But in the Covid-19 patients, we saw that they had left the bloodstream and entered the brain tissue. Then, as a pathologist, I know: something is very wrong here."
The immune cells were found in the 10 patients' entire brain and spinal cord, though there was no trace of the virus itself there. Van der Valk therefore believes that the immune cells, created to fight Covid-19, mistakenly attacked certain proteins in the brain. "That can happen if the protein somewhat resembles the virus. The own immune system then runs wild." Further research will be needed to figure out which proteins these immune cells targeted.
Van der Valk thinks that this could already explain why so many coronavirus patients still suffer from fatigue and concentration problems even months after recovering. "Immune-suppressing medication may be able to provide relief for this group. But that needs to be investigated further," he said to Nieuwsuur.