SEATTLE, Wash. — There have been many reports this year of recovering COVID-19 patients struggling with lingering, neurological issues like “brain fog” and overall mental fatigue. While it’s been discussed for some time that SARS-CoV-2 may have adverse effects on the brain, the “how” and “why” of this relationship has remained a mystery – until now. Researchers from the University of Washington say the coronavirus’ spike protein is indeed capable of bridging the blood-brain barrier in mice.
While mice obviously aren’t people, study authors say these findings all but confirm SARS-CoV-2 can do the same in humans. This spike protein, or S1 protein, is essentially what allows the coronavirus to enter and infect new human cells. Even by itself, S1 proteins can do serious damage by detaching from the the coronavirus and sparking harmful inflammation.
“The S1 protein likely causes the brain to release cytokines and inflammatory products,” says professor of medicine and lead study author William A. Banks in a university release.
This super intense immune response among COVID patients is called the “cytokine storm.” The immune system recognizes the virus as the major threat that it is, inciting an immune “overreaction” that appears to be causing brain fog, fatigue, and other cognitive problems in patients.
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