Publications & Posters

Cerebrospinal fluid in COVID-19 neurological complications: Neuroaxonal damage, anti-SARS-Cov2 antibodies but no evidence of cytokine storm

Journal of the Neurological Sciences | May 31, 2021

Garcia MA, Barreras PV, Lewis A, Pinilla G, Sokoll LJ, Kickler T, Mostafa H, Caturegli M, Moghekar A, Fitzgerald KC and Pardo CA

Journal of the neurological sciences. 2021;427:117517




To study in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of COVID-19 subjects if a “cytokine storm” or neuroinflammation are implicated in pathogenesis of neurological complications.


Cross-sectional study of CSF neuroinflammatory profiles from 18 COVID-19 subjects with neurological complications categorized by diagnosis (stroke, encephalopathy, headache) and illness severity. COVID-19 CSF was compared with CSF from healthy, infectious and neuroinflammatory disorders and stroke controls (n = 82). Cytokines (IL-6, TNFα, IFNγ, IL-10, IL-12p70, IL-17A), inflammation and coagulation markers (high-sensitivity-C Reactive Protein [hsCRP], ferritin, fibrinogen, D-dimer, Factor VIII) and neurofilament light chain (NF-L), were quantified. SARS-CoV2 RNA and SARS-CoV2 IgG and IgA antibodies in CSF were tested with RT-PCR and ELISA.


CSF from COVID-19 subjects showed absence of pleocytosis or specific increases in pro-inflammatory markers (IL-6, ferritin, or D-dimer). Although pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, TNFα, IL-12p70) and IL-10 were increased in CSF of stroke COVID-19 subjects, a similar increase was observed in non-COVID-19 stroke subjects. Anti-SARS-CoV2 antibodies in CSF of COVID-19 subjects (77%) were observed despite no evidence of SARS-CoV2 viral RNA. CSF-NF-L was elevated in subjects with stroke and critical COVID-19 as compared to controls and other COVID-19 severity categories. CSF-hsCRP was present in all subjects with critical stages of COVID-19 (7/18) but only in 1/82 controls.


The paucity of neuroinflammatory changes in CSF of COVID-19 subjects and lack of SARS-CoV2 RNA do not support the presumed neurovirulence of SARS-CoV2 or neuroinflammation in pathogenesis of neurological complications in COVID-19. The role of CSF SARS-CoV2 IgG antibodies and mechanisms of neuronal damage are still undetermined.