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Alzheimer's, COVID Patients Share Similar Brain Abnormalities

Alzheimer's, COVID Patients Share Similar Brain Abnormalities

People who die of severe COVID-19 have brain abnormalities that resemble changes caused by Alzheimer’s Disease. A series of small studies have found the accumulation of a protein called tau inside brain cells. Abnormal amounts of the protein beta-amyloid that accumulates inside amyloid plaques were also found. In Alzheimer’s COVID patients – what brain abnormalities do they share?

Studies on Alzheimer’s, COVID

Dr. Andrew Marks and his colleagues as Columbia University studied the brains of 10 COVID-19 patients. They found defects in proteins called ryanodine receptors that control the passage of calcium into cells. Defective ryanodine receptors in Alzheimer’s Disease are linked to the accumulation of tau into so-called neurofibrillary tangles.

The Columbia team reported high levels of these tangles in the COVID-19 patients’ brains. Other research teams have found abnormal amyloid levels in the brains of COVID-19 patients. Reports posted online ahead of peer review confirm this trend.

Another study was conducted at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. This investigated whether people with COVID-19 experiencing new-onset neurological complications during hospitalization had elevated blood markers indicating neurological damage.

Co-author of the study Dr. Thomas Wisniewski explained that the SARS-CoV-2 virus tends to induce vascular damage and cause disruption of the blood-brain barrier. “Cytokines like interleukin 6 and interleukin 1 are much elevated in [individuals with COVID-19], and these are cytokines that drive neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease,” Wisniewski said.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink and atrophy. It also causes brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia, in turn, is a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral, and social skills. It affects a person’s ability to function independently.

Early signs of Alzheimer’s include forgetting events and conversations. A person will develop severe memory impairment as the disease progresses. They eventually lose the ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Approximately 5.8 million people in the United States age 65 and older live with Alzheimer’s disease. Of those, 80% are 75 years old and older. Between 60% and 70% of the approximately 50 million people worldwide with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.

Causes of Alzheimer’s, COVID connection

The exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not fully understood to this day. Brain proteins fail to function normally which disrupts the work of brain cells. This triggers a series of toxic events. Neurons are damaged and lose connections to each other before eventually dying.

Scientists believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors affect the brain over time. These then contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The patients in the studies all experienced the most severe forms of COVID-19. Several people who have gone through “long COVID” have claimed to experience a sort of “brain fog.” This left them with the inability to think clearly or concentrate. They also had trouble remembering things.

Marks said that if similar changes are occurring in the brains of patients with milder illness, that might help explain the brain fog. He believed that patients with severe COVID-19 might be at higher risk for dementia later in life. However, it is still too soon to know definitively.

Key Takeaways

A few studies have compared the brains of people who have dealt with severe forms of COVID-19 and found similarities with those who dealt with Alzheimer’s Disease. Studies similar to one conducted in Columbia University found defective proteins and abnormal amyloid levels in COVID-19 patients similar to those with Alzheimer’s. An NYU study also found traits in one that echoed the other. The brain fog that many COVID patients talk about having could lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life. Further studies linking Alzheimer’s, COVID with the other will have to be done before a clear link can be identified.

For more on Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease click here.

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Sources

Alzheimer’s-like changes found in COVID patients’ brains; flu shot, mRNA booster safe together https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/alzheimers-like-changes-found-covid-patients-brains-flu-shot-mrna-booster-safe-2022-02-04/, Accessed February 7, 2022

Alzheimer’s-like signaling in brains of COVID-19 patients, https://alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/alz.12558, Accessed February 7, 2022

Alzheimer’s disease: Symptoms and causes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447, Accessed February 7, 2022

How to Cope With Post-COVID Brain Fog, https://www.verywellhealth.com/dealing-with-covid-brain-fog-5209460, Accessed February 7, 2022

Brain damage markers greater in people with severe COVID-19 than those with Alzheimer’s, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/brain-damage-markers-greater-in-people-hospitalized-with-covid-19-than-in-alzheimers, Accessed February 7, 2022

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Written by Jason Inocencio Updated Mar 09
Medically reviewed by Dexter Macalintal, MD