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

Kanberg N, Ashton NJ, Andersson LM, Yilmaz A, Lindh M, Nilsson S, Price RW, Blennow K, Zetterberg H and Gisslén M.

Neurology. 2020



Objective: To test the hypothesis that 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 two plasma biomarkers of CNS injury by Single molecule array (Simoa): 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 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 severe patients an early peak in plasma GFAp decreased upon 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 to mechanisms more closely linked to systemic SARS-CoV-2 infection and consequent immune activation, and also to evaluate the clinical utility of monitoring plasma NfL and GFAp in management of this group of patients.


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