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DOES COVID-19 CHANGE THE BRAIN? A NEUROSCIENTIST EXPLAINS THE DANGERS

0 2 years ago

As a cognitive neuroscientist, I have focused in my past research on understanding how brain changes related to aging affect people’s ability to think and move — particularly in middle age and beyond.

But as evidence came in showing that Covid-19 could affect the body and brain for months following infection, my research team shifted some of its focus to better understanding how the illness might influence the natural process of aging. This was motivated in large part by compelling new work from the United Kingdom investigating the effect of Covid-19 on the human brain.

PEERING IN AT THE BRAIN’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19

In a large study published in the journal Nature on March 7, 2022, a team of researchers in the U.K. investigated brain changes in people ages 51 to 81 who had experienced Covid-19. This work provides important new insights into the effects of Covid-19 on the human brain.

In the study, researchers relied on a database called the U.K. Biobank, which contains brain imaging data from over 45,000 people in the U.K. going back to 2014. This means that there was baseline data and brain imaging of all of those people from before the pandemic.

The research team compared people who had experienced Covid-19 with participants who had not, carefully matching the groups based on age, sex, baseline test date, and study location, as well as common risk factors for disease, such as health variables and socioeconomic status.

The team found marked differences in gray matter — or the neurons that process information in the brain — between those who had been infected with Covid-19 and those who had not. Specifically, the thickness of the gray matter tissue in brain regions known as the frontal and temporal lobes was reduced in the Covid-19 group, differing from the typical patterns seen in the people who hadn’t had a Covid-19 infection


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