Infectious Disease

Researchers report ‘striking similarities’ in brains of aging adults, people with COVID-19

December 06, 2022

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Changes in gene expression patterns in the brain associated with natural aging were also observed in the brains of those with severe COVID-19, prompting researchers to emphasize the need for neurological follow-up in recovered individuals.

ace reported in Nature Aging, Maria Mavrikaki, PhD, Staff scientist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues performed RNA-sequencing analysis on 54 postmortem frontal cortex samples from adults aged 22 to 85 years, which included 21 samples from individuals with severe COVID-19.

Many biological pathways that change with natural aging in the brain were observed in brains of those with severe COVID-19. Source: Adobe Stock

Comparison of COVID-19 cases and their age- and sex-matched controls demonstrated 6,993 differentially expressed genes. Of those, 3,330 were up-regulated and 3,663 were down-regulated.

“We observed that gene expression in the brain tissue of patients who died of COVID-19 closely resembled that of uninfected individuals 71 years old or older,” coauthor Jonathan Lee, Ph.D, said in a press release from Beth Israel. “Genes that were upregulated in aging were upregulated in the context of severe COVID-19. Likewise, genes downregulated in aging were also downregulated in severe COVID-19.

“While we did not find evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was present in the brain tissue at the time of death, we discovered inflammatory patterns associated with COVID-19. This suggests that this inflammation may contribute to the aging-like effects observed in the brains of patients with COVID-19 and long COVID,” Lee, a postdoctoral research fellow at Beth Israel and Harvard Medical School, continued.

In addition, researchers reported significant associations of cellular response to DNA damage, mitochondrial function, regulation of response to stress and oxidative stress, vesicular transport, calcium homeostasis and insulin signaling/secretion pathways, which have been linked to the aging process and brain aging.

“Ours is the first study to show that COVID-19 is associated with the molecular signatures of brain aging,” Mavrikaki said in the release. “We found striking similarities between the brains of patients with COVID-19 and aged individuals.”

References:

Severe COVID-19 linked with molecular signatures of brain aging, researchers find. https://www.bidmc.org/about-bidmc/news/2022/12/research-finds-covid-19-linked-with-molecular-signatures-brain-aging. Published Dec. 5, 2022. Accessed Dec. 6, 2022.

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