Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there are reports abound of infected individuals suffering from highly concerning cognitive effects, such as brain fog and fatigue.
Now it appears that researchers have taken another important step in understanding why.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, a team of researchers has discovered that spike proteins can, in fact, cross the blood-brain barrier in mice. This strongly suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can also enter the human brain.
The spike protein, also known as the S1 protein, helps dictate which cells the virus can enter. The researchers noted that proteins like S1 can cause inflammation and damage as they detach from the virus.
“The S1 protein likely causes the brain to release cytokines and inflammatory products,” the study’s lead author William Banks, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a news release.
The intense inflammation sometimes associated with coronavirus infections is called a cytokine storm. The immune system, upon seeing the virus and its proteins, overreacts as it tries to neutralize the invading contagion. The infected patient may soon suffer from brain fog, fatigue, and other cognitive issues.
The study could further help explain many of the complications related to coronavirus.
“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 centers of the brain and causes problems there as well,” Banks said.
Jacob Raber, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University, noted that his team also observed the increased susceptibility of men to more severe coronavirus infections, adding that this virus should never be taken lightly.
“You do not want to mess with this virus,” he said in a release. “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.”
Just last month, another study out of Germany revealed that coronavirus has the ability to reach the human brain after being inhaled through a person’s nose.
The researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin were able to analyze post-mortem tissue samples from thirty-three coronavirus-positive patients, and what they eventually found was that SARS-CoV-2 can enter the brain via nerve cells in the olfactory mucosa located in the upper part of the nasal cavity.
The findings, also published in Nature Neuroscience, added that more than one in three patients reported neurological symptoms, while other individuals suffered from headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. In rare instances, strokes or other serious conditions were observed.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.