More evidence suggesting that Covid-19 can enter the brain

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  • Although Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, it can also severely impact other organs 
  • Emerging evidence shows that virus proteins are able to crossover into the brain
  • This may have dire consequences, as the proteins can be toxic to brain tissues

Increasing amounts of evidence suggest that the novel coronavirus has negative effects on cognitive function, as some Covid-19 patients have shown symptoms indicating that their cognitive function has been affected.

Health24 previously reported on a study showing that the virus enters the brain through nerve cells in the olfactory mucosa (the cells that contain receptors for taste and smell). Now, a newer study, also assessing the cognitive effects of the virus, looks at how it enters our brains.

Researchers from the University of Washington's School of Medicine and other neuroscientists collaborated and found that the spike protein of the virus has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier in mice. 

SARS CoV-2 spiking its way into the brain

The spike (S1) protein is a binding protein of SARS-CoV-2, and it controls which cells the virus can enter. According to lead author, Professor William Banks, “The S1 protein likely causes the brain to release cytokines and inflammatory products.” 

This extreme inflammation caused by the virus is known as a cytokine storm, which is an exaggerated response by the immune system attempting to kill the virus. This overreaction of the immune system leaves the patient with dreadful cognitive issues like brain fog and fatigue. 

A previous study also emphasised that a cytokine storm poses severe risks for cognitive health: “Severe Covid-19 infection triggers a complex inflammatory response that may result in cytokine storm syndrome, stroke, hypoxia, and/or delirium – each a threat to cognitive health.”

The research team who conducted the present study noticed this reaction by the immune system with HIV infection and wanted to see if the same happens in the case of Covid-19.

Arms and hands of the virus grabbing onto receptors

The researchers expressed that certain proteins in HIV (gp 120) and SARS CoV-2 (S1) function the same – they are like arms and hands for the viruses to grab on to other receptors. They are also capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and may be toxic to the brain. 

“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 centres of the brain and causes problems there as well,” Professor Banks explained. 

He warned those who are not taking the virus seriously: 

“You do not want to mess with this virus. 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.”

READ | A quarter of the world may be without a vaccine – at least until 2022

READ | Non-contact thermometers alone are insufficient for detecting Covid-19, researchers warn

READ | Walking fast in narrow corridors can increase risk of Covid-19 transmission, study shows

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