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How COVID-19 attacks the brain

This is the “invasion of body grabbers” at the cellular level.

A new study from Yale University on the effects of the coronavirus on the nervous system reveals that the viral invader attacks the mind, taking over its victim’s brain cells to make copies of itself, while sucking up all the available oxygen, thus suffocating nearby. cells.

Their findings, which await peer review of BioRXiv, add evidence to claims that the brain belongs to an ever-growing list of vulnerabilities to COVID-19, including the lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines and blood vessels.

“If the brain becomes infected, it can be fatal,” Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University and a lead researcher, told the New York Times.

Coronavirus is a disease of the whole body. In general, doctors have long observed his respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and pneumonia. They soon added more puzzling problems: gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea; loss of taste and smell; chest pain and arrhythmia; brain fog and confusion.

Aside from anecdotes about patients, “we didn̵

7;t actually see much evidence that the virus could infect the brain, even though we knew it was a potential possibility,” said Dr. Michael Zandi, a consultant neurologist at the University of College of Neurology and Neurosurgery. London, he told the Times. In July, Dr. Zandy’s team published a report in Oxford University’s journal of the brain documenting what they had seen and heard from patients suffering from neurological effects after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

brain scan
Brain scans from coronavirus patients from a study published in the July issue of the Oxford University Brain Journal.Ross W. Paterson et al.

“This [new] the data just provides a little more evidence that they certainly can, ”he said.

Unlike other diseases, such as Zika, which causes our immune system to involve our own brain tissue, the coronavirus acts by entering a cell through a protein on their surface called ACE2, then usurping cellular components to speed up viral reproduction. All the while, it deprives the remaining cells of oxygen along the way.

“It’s kind of like a silent infection,” said Dr. Iwasaki, whose team monitors brain tissue in deceased patients with COVID-19, in mice and in laboratory-grown cells. “This virus has many mechanisms to avoid.”

Dr. Alison Muotri, a neurologist at the University of California, San Diego who has studied Zika in the past, notes that the presence of coronavirus severely hampers synapses between neurons. “Days after the infection, we are already seeing a drastic reduction in the number of synapses,” said Dr. Muotri. “We still don’t know if this is reversible or not.”

Researchers now believe that coronavirus brain infection may be more deadly than when it is centralized in the lungs, based on experiments with mice that compare results when focused on one organ or another. Brain-infected specimens lose weight and die within six days. None of these side effects were observed in the lung group.

Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to predict the path of the cellular intruder. In addition, 40% to 60% of patients who claim to suffer from cerebral and psychiatric symptoms, according to a recent study in The Lancet, may be associated with widespread inflammation caused by the body’s immune response to COVID-19.

“There is no need for the brain cells themselves to be infected [some brain-related symptoms] to make it happen, ”said Dr. Zandi.

“Different groups of patients can be affected in different ways,” he added. “It’s entirely possible to see a combination of both.”

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