Researchers from the internationally recognized Institute for Experimental Medicine (KOKI) are studying the effects of the Covid-19 virus on the brain and nervous system in neural tissue samples from deceased patients. Their findings may also bring new approaches to treatment.

The Covid-19 virus is known around the world as a respiratory disease, yet there are growing signs that it can also have a negative effect on other organs, including the nervous system and brain. One of KOKI’s research groups, in collaboration with the neuropathologist Tibor Hortobágyi, have undertaken to map these effects under the leadership of Ádám Dénes. The team was among the first to begin preparations and the approval process for the examination of nerve tissue samples from patients who died of Covid-19. Their goal is to establish if the virus can infect the nervous system and, if so, which areas of the brain may be affected. They also study how local or systemic inflammatory processes caused by a viral infection affect the brain.

As a result of infections, foreign substances that enter the body trigger an inflammatory reaction that travels to different parts of the body through blood circulation. The body then switches to ’emergency mode’ and retunes its normally functioning system. The ‘news’ of inflammatory changes also reaches the brain, in response to which a sense of illness develops. In severe cases, inflammatory factors are overproduced and processes are initiated that can affect the brain centers of respiration and circulation. This is also evidenced by Covid-19 cases in which patients’ breathing collapsed despite the fact that the condition of the lungs did not justify it, while there were also reports that critically low respiratory surface area and low blood oxygen levels did not cause shortness of breath in those infected.

These symptoms may also indicate that the virus is able to enter the brain, as are its ‘relatives’, MERS and SARS. Loss of taste and smell, headache, confusion, sudden onset of fever, stroke, seizures, and convulsions all suggest that Covid-19 can also cause an infection of the nervous system. This assumption is also supported by the network analysis research of Albert-László Barabási, which aims to explore the relationship between human and coronavirus proteins.

KOKI’s research will enable us to understand the effects of the virus on the brain, so new perspectives can be explored in terms of treatment. It is conceivable that some antiviral agents could improve patients’ chances by reducing cerebral viral infection, though it would also be possible to target inhibition of viral-induced inflammatory cerebral inflammatory processes with drugs already on the market to treat other diseases. In addition, the study of the long-term nervous system effects of infection and associated inflammatory processes may be critical to understanding or rehabilitating patients’ mental status and to determining whether infection may increase the risk of developing various cerebrovascular or neurodegenerative diseases.