Brain fog. Memory lapses. Difficulties focusing or sustaining attention. All these cognitive issues have plagued some who have otherwise recovered from a bout of Covid-19. In this video, Stanford neurologist Michelle Monje describes her work showing how even mild respiratory infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus may lead to lingering problems with the brain.
Monje, who has long treated and studied cancer patients with similar symptoms following chemotherapy, says that the damage isn’t necessarily caused by the virus itself. Instead, her work suggests that inflammatory molecules released in the lungs of someone with Covid may trigger a reaction of immune cells in the brain.
These brain cells, called microglia, then start a cascade of signals that alter the behavior of other brain cells, eventually slowing communication between neurons. The good news, Monje says, is that the similarities to what she calls “chemobrain” may mean that many of these persistent cognitive problems will improve with time, just as chemobrain does.
Reset: The Science of Crisis & Recovery
ANNUAL REVIEW OF IMMUNOLOGY
Neuroinflammation During RNA Viral Infections
Some RNA viruses can infiltrate the brain and central nervous system. While the immune response often succeeds in clearing the pathogen, it may also cause inflammation and, in some cases, persistent changes that result in neurologic and psychiatric disease.