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Neurochemical evidence of astrocytic and neuronal injury commonly found in COVID-19.

  • Author(s): Kanberg, Nelly
  • Ashton, Nicholas J
  • Andersson, Lars-Magnus
  • Yilmaz, Aylin
  • Lindh, Magnus
  • Nilsson, Staffan
  • Price, Richard W
  • Blennow, Kaj
  • Zetterberg, Henrik
  • Gisslén, Magnus
  • et al.
Abstract

Objective

To test the hypothesis that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has an impact on the CNS by measuring plasma biomarkers of CNS injury.

Methods

We recruited 47 patients with mild (n = 20), moderate (n = 9), or severe (n = 18) COVID-19 and measured 2 plasma biomarkers of CNS injury by single molecule array, neurofilament light chain protein (NfL; a marker of intra-axonal neuronal injury) and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAp; a marker of astrocytic activation/injury), in samples collected at presentation and again in a subset after a mean of 11.4 days. Cross-sectional results were compared with results from 33 age-matched controls derived from an independent cohort.

Results

The patients with severe COVID-19 had higher plasma concentrations of GFAp (p = 0.001) and NfL (p < 0.001) than controls, while GFAp was also increased in patients with moderate disease (p = 0.03). In patients with severe disease, an early peak in plasma GFAp decreased on follow-up (p < 0.01), while NfL showed a sustained increase from first to last follow-up (p < 0.01), perhaps reflecting a sequence of early astrocytic response and more delayed axonal injury.

Conclusion

We show neurochemical evidence of neuronal injury and glial activation in patients with moderate and severe COVID-19. Further studies are needed to clarify the frequency and nature of COVID-19-related CNS damage and its relation to both clinically defined CNS events such as hypoxic and ischemic events and mechanisms more closely linked to systemic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection and consequent immune activation, as well as to evaluate the clinical utility of monitoring plasma NfL and GFAp in the management of this group of patients.

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