Disturbing Impact of COVID-19 on Brain Cells

Fri 23rd Feb, 2024

Image by Gerd Altmann from PixabayResearchers in the United States have delved deeper into the long-term effects of COVID-19, particularly on individuals grappling with lingering symptoms, commonly referred to as Longcovid. While it has been acknowledged that brain damage can afflict Longcovid patients, a recent study has shed light on a specific aspect - the impact of the virus on the release of dopamine in brain cells.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter crucial for transmitting information in the brain, is primarily produced and released in a specific group of nerve cells in the midbrain. These cells become active, especially during moments of unexpected positivity, triggering the release of endorphins in the reward system's nucleus accumbens, leading to feelings of happiness and well-being. Additionally, dopamine reaching the frontal brain is associated with heightened concentration and improved learning abilities.

The study focused on investigating how the coronavirus affects the release of dopamine. While headaches are a common symptom accompanying coronavirus infections, loss of smell and taste has also been widely reported. Recent research has indicated potential changes in the brain even six months after infection, contributing to a higher likelihood of psychiatric disorders.

Surprisingly, the study's findings revealed abnormalities in dopamine neurons in the brain, despite examining cells from the lungs, heart, and pancreas. Infected neurons displayed a significant alteration: instead of releasing dopamine, they emitted chemical signals that induced inflammation. Moreover, these cells lost their ability to grow and divide.

Co-author Shuibing Chen highlighted the significance of the findings, emphasizing that even a small group of infected cells could have serious consequences. The study, conducted by the Center for Genomic Health in New York, analyzed brain cells obtained from autopsies of individuals with and without COVID-19, as well as laboratory-cultured brain cells from deceased donors.

The study's summary stated, "We show that midbrain dopamine neurons derived from human pluripotent stem cells are selectively susceptible and permissive to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection." The research was published in the specialized journal Cell.com.

Furthermore, the study contributes to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the stress induced by lockdowns and existential fears during the pandemic may increase the likelihood of broken heart syndrome, a condition also linked to dopamine.

These findings underscore the need for continued research into the long-term neurological effects of COVID-19, emphasizing the potential impact on mental health and the importance of addressing post-infection complications comprehensively.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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