Cancer Researchers Discover What’s Driving “Brain Fog” in People With COVID-19

Brain Fog Concept

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A unique partnership amongst professionals from a number of locations within MSK causes findings about how swelling seems driving the neurologic impacts seen in some COVID-19 clients.

One of the lots of uncommon signs that have actually emerged in COVID-19 clients is a condition that’s informally called “COVID brain” or “brain fog.” It’s identified by confusion, headaches, and loss of short-term memory. In serious cases, it can cause psychosis and even seizures. It generally emerges weeks after somebody initially ends up being ill with COVID-19.

In the February 8, 2021, concern of the journal Cancer Cell, a multidisciplinary group from Memorial Sloan Kettering reports a hidden reason for COVID brain: the existence of inflammatory particles in the liquid surrounding the brain and spine (called the cerebrospinal fluid). The findings recommend that anti-inflammatory drugs, such as steroids, might work for dealing with the condition, however more research study is required.

“We were initially approached by our colleagues in critical care medicine who had observed severe delirium in many patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19,” states Jessica Wilcox, the Chief Fellow in neuro-oncology at MSK and among the very first authors of the brand-new research study. “That meeting turned into a tremendous collaboration between neurology, critical care, microbiology, and neuroradiology to learn what was going on and to see how we could better help our patients.”

Recognizing a Familiar Symptom

The medical term for COVID brain is encephalopathy. Members of MSK’s Department of Neurology felt well-poised to study it, Dr. Wilcox states, since they are currently utilized to dealing with the condition in other systemic inflammatory syndromes. It is a negative effects in clients who are getting a kind of immunotherapy called chimeric antibody receptor (AUTOMOBILE) T cell treatment, a treatment for blood cancer. When AUTOMOBILE T cell treatment is provided, it triggers immune cells to launch particles called cytokines, which assist the body to eliminate the cancer. But cytokines can leak into the location around the brain and trigger swelling.

Jan Remsik, Adrienne Boire, and Jessica Wilcox

(From left) Jan Remsik, Adrienne Boire, and Jessica Wilcox are studying the reasons for neurological issues in COVID-19 clients. Credit: MSK

When the MSK group initially started studying COVID brain, however, they didn’t understand that cytokines were the cause. They very first presumed that the infection itself was having a result on the brain. The research study in the Cancer Cell paper concentrated on 18 clients who were hospitalized at MSK with COVID-19 and were experiencing serious neurologic issues. The clients were provided a complete neurology workup, consisting of brain scans like MRIs and CTs and electroencephalogram (EEG) tracking, to look for the reason for their delirium. When absolutely nothing was discovered in the scans that would discuss their condition, the scientists believed the response may depend on the cerebrospinal fluid.

MSK’s microbiology group designed a test to identify the COVID-19 infection in the fluid. Thirteen of the 18 clients had back taps to search for the infection, however it was not discovered. At that point, the remainder of the fluid was required to the laboratory of MSK physician-scientist Adrienne Boire for additional research study.

Using Science to Ask Clinical Questions

Jan Remsik, a research study fellow in Dr. Boire’s laboratory in the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program and the paper’s other very first author, led the analysis of the fluid. “We found that these patients had persistent inflammation and high levels of cytokines in their cerebrospinal fluid, which explained the symptoms they were having,” Dr. Remsik states. He includes that some smaller sized case research studies with just a couple of clients had actually reported comparable findings, however this research study is the biggest one up until now to take a look at this result.

“We used to think that the nervous system was an immune-privileged organ, meaning that it didn’t have any kind of relationship at all with the immune system,” Dr. Boire states. “But the more we look, the more we find connections between the two.” One focus of Dr. Boire’s laboratory is studying how immune cells have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter this area, a location of research study that’s likewise essential for finding out how cancer cells have the ability to spread out from other parts of the body to the brain.

“One thing that was really unique about Jan’s approach is that he was able to do a really broad molecular screen to learn what was going on,” Dr. Boire includes. “He took the tools that we use in cancer biology and applied them to COVID-19.”

The inflammatory markers discovered in the COVID-19 clients were comparable, however not similar, to those seen in individuals who have actually gotten AUTOMOBILE T cell treatment. And similar to AUTOMOBILE T cell treatment, the neurologic impacts are often postponed. The preliminary inflammatory reaction with AUTOMOBILE T cell treatment is extremely comparable to the response called cytokine storm that’s frequently reported in individuals with COVID-19, Dr. Wilcox discusses. With both COVID-19 and AUTOMOBILE T cell treatment, the neurologic impacts come days or weeks later on. In AUTOMOBILE T cell clients, neurologic signs are treated with steroids, however physicians don’t yet understand the function of anti-inflammatory treatments for individuals with neurologic signs of COVID-19. “Many of them are already getting steroids, and it’s possible they may be benefitting,” Dr. Wilcox states.

“This kind of research speaks to the cooperation across the departments at MSK and the interdisciplinary work that we’re able to do,” Dr. Boire concludes. “We saw people getting sick, and we were able to use our observations to ask big clinical questions and then take these questions into the lab to answer them.”

Reference: “Inflammatory Leptomeningeal Cytokines Mediate COVID-19 Neurologic Symptoms in Cancer Patients” by Jan Remsik, Jessica A. Wilcox, N. Esther Babady, Tracy A. McMillen, Behroze A. Vachha, Neil A. Halpern, Vikram Dhawan, Marc Rosenblum, Christine A. Iacobuzio-Donahue, Edward K. Avila, Bianca Santomasso and Adrienne Boire, 16 January 2021, Cancer Cell.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2021.01.007

Dr. Boire is a developer on a patent associated to regulating the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and is an overdue member of the clinical board of advisers of EVREN Technologies.

This work was moneyed by National Institutes of Health grant P30 CA008748, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, and the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance GC239280. It was likewise supported by the American Brain Tumor Association Basic Research Fellowship, the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation Fellowship, and the Druckenmiller Center for Lung Cancer Research.

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