SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has the capacity to affect brain tissue and the structure of the cortex, a region of the brain responsible for functions such as memory, consciousness, and language, according to a Brazilian study released on Thursday.
According to the study, the coronavirus can affect astrocytes, the most abundant cells in the central nervous system, which perform functions such as providing support and nutrients for neurons and regulating the concentration of neurotransmitters and other substances, such as potassium.
"We demonstrated for the first time that the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects and replicates in astrocytes and this can decrease the viability of neurons," said Daniel Martins de Souza, a professor at the Institute of Biology at the University of Campinas (Unicamp).
"The infection of this cell type was confirmed through experiments done with brain tissue from 26 patients who died from COVID-19," the study said.
According to Martins de Souza, scientists used a technique known as immunohistochemistry, which involves using antibodies to detect certain antigens in a tissue sample.
The presence of the virus was confirmed in 26 of the samples studied, and in five of them, certain alterations were found that suggested possible damage to the central nervous system.
Eighty-one other patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms were also studied. The results showed a third of them exhibiting neurological or neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as memory impairment, fatigue, headache, anxiety, and others, 60 days after acquiring the disease.
The study was conducted by scientists from Unicamp and the University of Sao Paulo (USP), with collaboration from scientists at the National Laboratory of Biosciences, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and the D'Or Institute.