Mar 14, 2023 - News

UW study finds tie between inflammation and long COVID symptoms

Illustration of the coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)

Illustration: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MSMI, Dan Higgins, MAMS. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Three years after long COVID was first documented, the mysteries behind what causes it are starting to be unraveled.

Driving the news: Some of the mental symptoms of long COVID like brain fog and memory issues are likely sparked by inflammation, according to a new study published this month by researchers with the University of Washington School of Medicine, the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, and Oregon Health & Science University.

The big picture: While the relationship between long COVID and inflammatory diseases is still being studied, there is a growing body of work suggesting a link between the virus and inflammatory diseases that affect the brain.

Details: Researchers administered SARS-CoV-2 to mice.

  • The study showed that the S1 protein, the virus' characteristic spike protein, readily passes through the blood-brain barrier.
  • Once there, the protein generates inflammation that can spur problems with learning and memory and accelerate the effects of Alzheimer's and other cognitive impairments, Banks said.

It's still not clear why some people get long COVID and others do not, according to the CDC, but among those at higher risk include those who either got severely sick from COVID or had underlying conditions prior to infection.

What's next: Banks said the next steps for study include examining animals to see the long-term effects of inflammation on a brain that's been infected with COVID-19 and testing drugs that might block or prevent certain kinds of neuroinflammation.


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