A new Cleveland Clinic-led study has identified mechanisms by which COVID-19 can lead to Alzheimer’s disease-like dementia. The findings, published in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, indicate an overlap between COVID-19 and brain changes common in Alzheimer’s, and may help inform risk management and therapeutic strategies for COVID-19-associated cognitive impairment.
Reports of neurological complications in COVID-19 patients and “long-hauler” patients whose symptoms persist after the infection clears are becoming more common, suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) may have lasting effects on brain function. However, it is not yet well understood how the virus leads to neurological issues.
“While some studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infects brain cells directly, others found no evidence of the virus in the brain,” says Feixiong Cheng, Ph.D., assistant staff in Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute and lead author on the study. “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 near future.”
In the study, the researchers harnessed artificial intelligence using existing datasets of patients with Alzheimer’s and COVID-19. They measured the proximity between SARS-CoV-2 host genes/proteins and those associated with several neurological diseases where closer proximity suggests related or shared disease pathways. The researchers also analyzed the genetic factors that enabled SARS-COV-2 to infect brain tissues and cells.