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Current Affairs

How Coronavirus attacks brain

Date: 12 September 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

The coronavirus targets the lungs foremost, but also the kidneys, liver, and blood vessels. Some patients have shown symptoms, including headaches, confusion, and delirium, suggesting the virus may also attack the brain.

 

Background

The study offers the first clear evidence that in some people, the coronavirus invades brain cells, hijacking them to make copies of itself.

 

Details

  • It is unclear how the virus gets to the brain or how it sets off this trail of destruction. Infection of the brain is likely to be rare, but some people may be susceptible because of their genetic backgrounds, a high viral load or for other reasons.

  • Scientists have had to rely on brain imaging and patient symptoms to infer effects on the brain, but there was not much evidence that the virus can infect the brain.

  • Researchers published research in July showing that some patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, develop serious neurological complications, including nerve damage.

  • They documented brain infection in three ways: in brain tissue from a person who died of COVID-19, in a mouse model, and in organoids — clusters of brain cells in a lab dish meant to mimic the brain’s three-dimensional structure.

  • Other pathogens, including the Zika virus, are known to infect brain cells. Immune cells then flood the damaged sites, trying to cleanse the brain by destroying infected cells.

  • The coronavirus is much stealthier: It exploits the brain cells’ machinery to multiply, but doesn’t destroy them. Instead, it chokes off oxygen to adjacent cells, causing them to wither and die.

  • The coronavirus seems to rapidly decrease the number of synapses, the connections between neurons.

  • Previous studies have suggested, based on a proxy for protein levels, that the brain has very little ACE2 and is likely to be spared. But the new research found that the virus could indeed enter brain cells using this doorway.

  • Some cognitive symptoms, like brain fog and delirium, might be harder to pick up in patients who are sedated and on ventilators.