A study from researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons reports that the brains of a small sample of patients who died of COVID display some of the same molecular changes found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings could help explain the memory problems reported by sufferers of “long COVID,” though the researchers caution that the study is small—with data from only 10 patients—and needs to be replicated by others.
The study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
Early reports of “brain fog” and persistent cardiac symptoms in COVID survivors prompted the Columbia researchers to investigate how certain molecules called ryanodine receptors were affected in this new disease.
Inside neurons, defective ryanodine receptors have previously been linked to an increase in phosphorylated tau, a well-known hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
In the new study, the Columbia researchers found high levels of phosphorylated tau in the brains of the COVID patients in addition to defective ryanodine receptors.
Phosphorylated tau was found in areas where tau is typically located in Alzheimer’s patients, as well as in areas where tau is not typically located in Alzheimer’s patients. That suggests that phosphorylated tau in the COVID patients could be a sign of early-stage Alzheimer’s and also contribute to other neurological symptoms observed in COVID-19 patients.
Increased levels of phosphorylated tau in the brain are believed to be linked to memory problems in Alzheimer’s and could be causing similar issues in people with long COVID, Marks says.
Release date: 03 February 2022
Source: Columbia University Irving Medical Center