‘A silent killer’ - COVID-19 shown to trigger inflammation in the brain

SWAlexander

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1 November 2022
Research led by The University of Queensland has found COVID-19 activates the same inflammatory response in the brain as Parkinson’s disease.
The discovery identified a potential future risk for neurodegenerative conditions in people who’ve had COVID-19, but also a possible treatment.

“We studied the effect of the virus on the brain’s immune cells, ‘microglia’ which are the key cells involved in the progression of brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” Professor Woodruff said.

“Our team grew human microglia in the laboratory and infected the cells with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We found the cells effectively became ‘angry’, activating the same pathway that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s proteins can activate in disease, the inflammasomes.”

Dr Albornoz Balmaceda said triggering the inflammasome pathway sparked a ‘fire’ in the brain, which begins a chronic and sustained process of killing off neurons.

“It’s kind of a silent killer, because you don’t see any outward symptoms for many years,” Dr Albornoz Balmaceda said.

“It may explain why some people who’ve had COVID-19 are more vulnerable to developing neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.”

The researchers found the spike protein of the virus was enough to start the process and was further exacerbated when there were already proteins in the brain linked to Parkinson’s.

“So if someone is already pre-disposed to Parkinson’s, having COVID-19 could be like pouring more fuel on that ‘fire’ in the brain,” Professor Woodruff said.

“The same would apply for a predisposition for Alzheimer’s and other dementias that have been linked to inflammasomes.”

But the study also found a potential treatment.

The researchers administered a class of UQ-developed inhibitory drugs which are currently in clinical trials with Parkinson’s patients.

“We found it successfully blocked the inflammatory pathway activated by COVID-19, essentially putting out the fire,” Dr Albornoz Balmaceda said.

“The drug reduced inflammation in both COVID-19-infected mice and the microglia cells from humans, suggesting a possible treatment approach to prevent neurodegeneration in the future.”

Professor Woodruff said while the similarity between how COVID-19 and dementia diseases affect the brain was concerning, it also meant a possible treatment was already in existence.

“Further research is needed, but this is potentially a new approach to treating a virus that could otherwise have untold long-term health ramifications.”

The research was co-led by Dr Alberto Amarilla Ortiz and Associate Professor Daniel Watterson and involved 33 co-authors across UQ and internationally.

The study is published in Nature’s Molecular Psychiatry. https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2022/11/silent-killer’-covid-19-shown-trigger-inflammation-brain
 

BrightCandle

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That sounds very promising if ME/CFS research can establish that the glial cells are doing the same in ME/CFS. My only general reservation about any form of turning the immune system off is I kind of suspect my body is fighting bacteria and switching off an aspect of the immune system could be bad news.
 

hapl808

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But the study also found a potential treatment.

The researchers administered a class of UQ-developed inhibitory drugs which are currently in clinical trials with Parkinson’s patients.

“We found it successfully blocked the inflammatory pathway activated by COVID-19, essentially putting out the fire,” Dr Albornoz Balmaceda said.

“The drug reduced inflammation in both COVID-19-infected mice and the microglia cells from humans, suggesting a possible treatment approach to prevent neurodegeneration in the future.”
Interesting, but I think very preliminary. As we know, just because it was tested in mice and in vitro with human cells doesn't mean much for therapeutic value.

I really wonder what the future holds. On the one hand, if billions are affected, the research will be funded and driven. On the other hand, I'm less than impressed with out abilities to move medical research forward. I really believe that in 100 years this will be looked at like the first 20 years of the industrial age - lots of promise, but little understanding how primitive things still remained.

One bright spot to me is that once we actually focused on HIV treatment, we have an illness that still can't be cured but can be managed remarkably well compared to 30 years ago. Unfortunately I think there's still a weird effort by most politicians and people to minimize any short or long term concerns around COVID, so that will work against urgent research.
 

SWAlexander

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Unfortunately I think there's still a weird effort by most politicians and people to minimize any short or long term concerns around COVID, so that will work against urgent research.
I must admit in seeing more possibilities in Prof. Akiko Iwasaki research.
"We are happy to announce the recipient of the 2022 "Johadamis #MECFS Research Grant." Prof. Akiko Iwasaki "
@VirusesImmunity, in collaboration with @polybioRF, will screen blood + cerebrospinal fluid of a well-defined Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome cohort."

More at: https://polybio.org/#section-about
 

GreenEdge

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I saw this on the TV news last night. They also said that anyone with a neurological condition is more susceptible to getting this brain inflammation from COVID-19 and should take extra measures to prevent getting infected.

ME/CFS certainly seems like a neurological condition, so that includes us. We should get priority access to vaccines.