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If you had Covid, you are more susceptible to neurological disorders, says new research

Dristi Sharma
Dristi SharmaNov 08, 2022 | 08:00

If you had Covid, you are more susceptible to neurological disorders, says new research

Scientists are calling Covid-19 a silent killer due to its ability to activate the same inflammatory response in the brain as Parkinson's disease. 

What was the research? The research was led by the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia, which identified a potential future risk for neurodegenerative conditions in people who've had Covid-19. To study the effect of the virus on the brain's immune cells known as 'microglia', scientists grew human microglia in the laboratory and infected the cells with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Microglia are also the key cells involved in the progression of brain diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The result? 

  • The cells effectively became 'angry', activating the same pathway that Parkinson's and Alzheimer's proteins can activate in disease, known as the inflammasome. This inflammasome pathway then in turn causes a 'fire' in the brain, which begins a chronic and sustained process of killing off neurons. 
  • It may explain why some people who've had Covid are more vulnerable to developing neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease, the scientists involved in the study said. 
Photo: A covid-19 infected mouse brain showing 'angry' microglia in green and SARS-CoV-2 in red/ The University of Queensland
  • The study was done by Professor Trent Woodruff and Dr Eduardo Albornoz Balmaceda from UQ's School of Biomedical Sciences, and virologists from the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences. 
It's kind of a silent killer because you don't see any outward symptoms for many years
- Dr Albornoz Balmaced

The research also showed that the found one single spike protein of the virus was enough to start the process.

More fuel on the 'fire': Dr Albornoz said that the above-mentioned, 'fire' was further exacerbated when there were already proteins in the brain linked to Parkinson's. So, if someone is already pre-disposed to Parkinson's or Alzheimer's and other dementias, having Covid could be like pouring more fuel on that 'fire' in the brain, professor Woodruff said.

Possible treatment? The research however also found a possible treatment. The researchers administered a class of inhibitory drugs developed at the university which are currently in clinical trials with Parkinson's patients. 

We found it successfully blocked the inflammatory pathway activated by Covid, essentially putting out the fire
- Dr Albornoz Balmaceda

While the resemblance between Covid and dementia disorders' effects on the brain was alarming, researchers said it also showed a potential cure already existed.

Last updated: November 08, 2022 | 08:00
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