Infectious Diseases

Coronavirus May Impact our Brain: Brain Alterations Found in a COVID-19 Patient

Posted on 1 June 2020

We already know that coronaviruses can infect the nervous system – the 2002 virus that caused SARS has been found in the brain, for example. Autopsy reports have revealed tissue damage in the brains of COVID-19 victims, and around a third of patients develop neurological symptoms of some kind. Scientists have speculated that the virus’s ability to invade the brain could be responsible for the loss of smell and taste that sometimes occurs in cases of COVID-19.

This publication presents the case of a young female patient who showed loss of smell and taste (anosimia and disgeusia) and tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. For the first time, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to detect changes in brain areas involved in sense of smell.

The MRI image below shows hyperintensities – areas of high intensity typically associated with damage – in the right gyrus rectus (yellow arrows) and the olfactory bulbs (white arrows).

Politi, L., Salsano, E., & Grimaldi, M. (2020). Magnetic Resonance Imaging Alteration of the Brain in a Patient With Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Anosmia. JAMA Neurology. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2020.2125

After 28 days, the patient regained her sense of smell, and these abnormalities had at least partially reversed. Based on these findings, the authors have suggested that SARS-CoV-2 might invade the brain through the olfactory pathway, although this will need to be confirmed through further study.

However, not all patients who experienced loss of smell/taste had these abnormalities, suggesting that changes in MRI imaging might be limited or nonexistent in some.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging Alteration of the Brain in a Patient With Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Anosmia: doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2020.2125

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