In a new study, researchers at the University of Queensland have discovered that COVID-19 may have long-term effects on the brain, leading to neurological symptoms similar to those seen in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Using SARS-CoV-2 infection of transgenic mice expressing human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) as a COVID-19 pre-clinical model, this study adds to the existing understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 may cause neurological symptoms. The findings suggest that the virus's spike protein may activate microglia through the ACE2-NF-kB pathway promoting NLRP3 inflammasome activation leading to neuroinflammation and neurological phenotypes. Thus potentially contributing to brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease, particularly when combined with other neurodegenerative triggers like alpha-synuclein aggregates.
However, the team also discovered that a class of inhibitory drugs currently being tested in clinical trials for Parkinson’s patients successfully blocked the inflammatory pathway activated by COVID-19 and reduced inflammation in infected mice and human microglia calls. This suggested that these drugs may be a potential treatment for preventing neurodegeneration caused by COVID-19.
Further research is needed, but the findings suggest the COVID-19 may have long-term health ramifications and that a possible treatment is already available.
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Journal Reference: Albornoz, E. A., et al. (2022) SARS-CoV-2 drives NLRP3 inflammasome activation in human microglia through spike protein. Molecular Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1038/s41380-022-01831-0.