Cleveland Clinic researchers identify link between COVID-19, Alzheimer's-like brain impairment

While neurological problems have been a common symptom among COVID-19 long-haulers, the underlying mechanisms for this have remained largely unknown. A new study led by Cleveland Clinic researchers may have a glimpse at the answer.

The research, published June 9 in Alzheimer's Research & Therapy, leveraged artificial intelligence to compare existing datasets between patients with COVID-19 and Alzheimer's. 

While researchers did not find evidence the virus directly infects the brain, they did find close network-based relationships between SARS-CoV-2 and genes/proteins associated with Alzheimer's, as well as several other neurological diseases. They then evaluated potential links between COVID-19 and two hallmarks of Alzheimer's: neuroinflammation and brain microvascular injury. 

"We discovered that SARS-CoV-2 infection significantly altered Alzheimer's markers implicated in brian inflammation and that certain viral entry factors are highly expressed in cells in the blood-brain barrier," said Feixiong Cheng, PhD, lead study author and assistant staff at Cleveland Clinic's Genomic Medicine Institute. "These findings indicate that the virus may impact several genes or pathways involved in neuroinflammation and brain microvascular injury, which could lead to Alzheimer's disease-like cognitive impairment." 

Dr. Cheng and team are now conducting research aimed at identifying measurable biomarkers and potential new therapeutic targets for COVID-19-related neurological issues. 

"Identifying how COVID-19 and neurological problems are linked will be critical for developing effective preventive and therapeutic strategies to address the surge in neurocognitive impairments that we expect to see in the future," Dr. Cheng said. 


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