Imaging spotlights brain changes 6 months after COVID-19

A study using a special type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has revealed brain changes in COVID-19 patients up to 6 months after recovery from their infections, according to findings to be presented at next week's Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting in Chicago.

Researchers in India used susceptibility-weighted imaging to analyze the effects of COVID-19 on the brain among 46 COVID-19 survivors and 30 healthy controls within 6 months of recovery. The most commonly reported symptoms among COVID-19 patients were fatigue, trouble sleeping, problems with attention, and memory issues.

The MRI results showed significant changes in the brain linked with fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches, and cognitive problems in the COVID-19 patients compared with controls.

There were also differences in parts of the brain responsible for language production and comprehension, attention, motor inhibition and imagery, social cognitive processes, hormone-release signaling, sensory and motor signaling, and regulation of the sleep-wake cycle.

"Changes in susceptibility values of brain regions may be indicative of local compositional changes," study coauthor Sapna Mishra, a PhD candidate at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, said in the RSNA news release. "Susceptibilities may reflect the presence of abnormal quantities of paramagnetic compounds, whereas lower susceptibility could be caused by abnormalities like calcification or lack of paramagnetic molecules containing iron."

The research team is now conducting a longitudinal study on the same patient cohort to determine whether the neurologic abnormalities persist longer. "The present findings are from the small temporal window," Mishra said. "However, the longitudinal time points across a couple of years will elucidate if there exists any permanent change."

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