Preventing post-COVID ‘Brain Fog’ by targeting blood vessel

Wnt7a ligands restore blood-brain barrier & cognition in COVID-19 mice.


Following COVID-19 recovery, patients frequently have cognitive fog, which is characterized by memory loss and learning difficulties. University of Illinois Chicago discovered that mice infected with the virus also experienced neurological issues. They found that these mice had leaky blood-brain barriers, which normally shield the brain and cause memory and learning issues.

The team, led by Sarah Lutz, identified a treatment to prevent these issues, which could offer hope for similar human problems. Their findings were published in the journal Brain.

Researchers looked at the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway, which is essential for a healthy blood-brain barrier, and discovered lower amounts of it in the brain blood vessels of infected mice. Testing a gene therapy to boost this pathway, they observed less barrier leakage and improved memory in mice. Focusing on older mice with mild infections, akin to vaccinated humans’ experiences, they highlighted the risk of cognitive problems even with mild COVID-19 cases.

Image showing Blood vessel endothelial cells (green) and basement membrane (red) in the brain.
Blood vessel endothelial cells (green) and basement membrane (red) in the brain. (Credit: Sarah Lutz)

Lutz said, “While the research is far from establishing a therapy for humans to prevent post-infection cognitive impairments, this study is essential. Anytime you can identify a molecular mechanism contributing to a disease, you learn about basic biology and what causes disease. This research suggests that improving blood-brain barrier integrity could have benefits in preventing complications of COVID-19.” 

Dr. Jalees Rehman, head of the UIC Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, emphasized a key lesson from COVID-19: even mild infections can seriously affect organs, including the brain. 

In conclusion, this research gives hope for tackling post-COVID “brain fog” by focusing on the brain’s blood vessels. Targeting these vessels can prevent or alleviate the cognitive difficulties often experienced after recovering from COVID-19.

Journal reference:

  1. Troy N Trevino, Avital B Fogel et al., Engineered Wnt7a ligands rescue blood–brain barrier and cognitive deficits in a COVID-19 mouse model. Brain. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awae031.
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