COVID-19 tied to brain tissue loss, early research suggests

COVID-19 was linked to brain tissue loss in a U.K. brain imaging study, according to early findings published June 15 in the preprint server medRxiv

The study involved 782 participants, with researchers comparing brain scans from before and after COVID-19 infection. Researchers pulled data from the U.K. Biobank, which scanned more than 40,000 participants before the pandemic hit the region, allowing them to invite participants back for a second imaging visit. 

Findings showed tissue loss in certain parts of the brain. 

In a June 17 interview with CNBC, Scott Gottlieb, MD, former FDA commissioner who now serves on Pfizer's board, explained the findings. 

"In short, the study suggests that there could be some long-term loss of brain tissue from COVID-19, and that would have some long-term consequences," Dr. Gottlieb said.
"You could compensate for that over time, so the symptoms of that may go away, but you're never going to regain the tissue if, in fact, it's being destroyed as a result of the virus." 

The region where the tissue loss occurred could also help explain why loss of smell is a common COVID-19 symptom. 

"The diminishment in the amount of cortical tissue happened to be in regions of the brain that are close to the places that are responsible for smell," Dr. Gottlieb said. "What it suggests is that, the smell, the loss of smell, is just an effect of a more primary process that's underway, and that process is actually shrinking of cortical tissue." 


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