Indian researchers have used a special type of MRI – known as susceptibility-weighted imaging – to examine the brains of patients who had contracted Covid-19. Magnetic susceptibility measures how strongly certain materials, such as blood, iron, and calcium, become magnetized in an applied magnetic field. In this way, the researchers can identify a number of neurological diseases such as microbleeds, vascular malformations, brain tumors and strokes. “Susceptibilities reflect the presence of abnormal amounts of paramagnetic compounds. A lower susceptibility indicates anomalies such as calcification or a lack of paramagnetic iron-containing molecules,” explains co-author Sapna S. Mishra, PhD student at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

The researchers analyzed the MRIs of 46 patients who still complained of symptoms six months after infection and of 30 healthy controls. In the patients with Long Covid, the most commonly reported symptoms were fatigue, trouble sleeping, attention deficit and memory problems. MRI results showed that long-Covid patients had significantly higher frontal lobe and brainstem susceptibility scores compared to healthy individuals. The clusters found in the frontal lobe mainly show differences in the white matter. “These brain regions are associated with fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches, and cognitive problems,” says Sapna S. Mishra. The research team was also able to discover significant differences in the right ventral midbrain region of the brainstem. Among other things, this region coordinates the release of hormones, the transmission of sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex and regulates the circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle).

“This study points to serious long-term complications that can be caused by the coronavirus, even months after recovery,” Mishra summarizes the findings. “The present results relate to a small time window. However, further research over several years will shed light on whether there is a lasting change.”

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