Conditions that severely damage the respiratory system, such as Covid-19, can also cause inflammation to the part of the brain that controls breathing, US researchers have revealed.

The new research, published in The Journal of Physiology, studied rats to show that treatment to areas of the brain that control respiration could play a key role in helping patients recover from lung injuries caused by illnesses such as coronavirus.

In general, when the immune system battles against a pulmonary infection, it triggers an inflammatory response, but sometimes that goes too far, causing more harm to the lungs.

The resulting severe respiratory conditions were believed to affect only the lungs, but this new research indicates that parts of the brain that control breathing also become inflamed.

Patients who suffer a particularly bad bout of coronavirus, such as one that requires them to be put on a ventilator, are therefore likely to also suffer injury to this part of the central nervous system, the researchers from Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio, point out.

The scientists studied what happened to rats with lung injuries after their central nervous systems were given anti-inflammatories, and found that the drugs reduced the inflammation in the nervous system – which then cut down irritation in the lungs.

The finding indicates that treating brainstem circuits could greatly aid the recovery of the respiratory system after an acute bout of an illness such as Covid-19, they concluded.

The study’s lead author, Assistant Professor Yee-Hsee Hsieh, said that, while “current research focuses on repair and restoration of pulmonary tissue and function,” this new research suggests doctors also need to consider the role of the central nervous system as part of a more complete lung-disease treatment.

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