Brain MRI Study Shows 'Significant Abnormalities' Up to Six Months After COVID-19

COVID-19 may cause changes in the brain stem and frontal lobe that could lead to fatigue, impacts in motor signal processing, insomnia, and depression, according to emerging research to be presented next week at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual conference in Chicago.

New research, based on susceptibility-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, reveals significant differences in the brain stem and frontal lobe up to six months after people had COVID-19.

For the study, researchers obtained susceptibility-weighted MRI scans from 46 people within six months of recovery from COVID-19 and compared them to 30 healthy controls. The researchers identified high susceptibility values with significant clusters in the frontal lobe and brain stem for those who had COVID-19.

The frontal lobe clusters included portions of the right and left orbito-inferior frontal gyrus and adjacent areas of white matter, according to the researchers, who will be presenting their findings next week at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual conference in Chicago.

“These brain regions are linked with fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches and cognitive problems,” noted study co-author Sapna S. Mishra, Ph.D(c), who is affiliated with the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

Mishra said the “significant abnormalities in COVID survivors” also included a cluster in the right ventral diencephalon region of the brain stem. The researchers noted this region is associated with a variety of functions including sensory and motor signal processing, hormone release, and regulation of circadian rhythms.

In order to determine potential long-term implications of these brain changes, the researchers are currently in the midst of conducting a longitudinal study of the same patient cohort.

“(The current) study points to serious long-term complications that may be caused by the coronavirus, even months after recovery from the infection,” noted Mishra. “The present findings are from the small temporal window. However, the longitudinal time points across a couple of years will elucidate if there exists any permanent change.”