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Brain ; 2022 Jun 09.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1890882

ABSTRACT

While neuropathological examinations in patients who died from COVID-19 revealed inflammatory changes in cerebral white matter, cerebral MRI frequently fails to detect abnormalities even in the presence of neurological symptoms. Application of multi-compartment diffusion microstructure imaging (DMI), that detects even small volume shifts between the compartments (intra-axonal, extra-axonal and free water/CSF) of a white matter model, is a promising approach to overcome this discrepancy. In this monocentric prospective study, a cohort of 20 COVID-19 inpatients (57.3 ± 17.1 years) with neurological symptoms (e.g. delirium, cranial nerve palsies) and cognitive impairments measured by the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA test; 22.4 ± 4.9; 70% below the cut-off value <26/30 points) underwent DMI in the subacute stage of the disease (29.3 ± 14.8 days after positive PCR). A comparison of whole-brain white matter DMI parameters with a matched healthy control group (n = 35) revealed a volume shift from the intra- and extra-axonal space into the free water fraction (V-CSF). This widespread COVID-related V-CSF increase affected the entire supratentorial white matter with maxima in frontal and parietal regions. Streamline-wise comparisons between COVID-19 patients and controls further revealed a network of most affected white matter fibres connecting widespread cortical regions in all cerebral lobes. The magnitude of these white matter changes (V-CSF) was associated with cognitive impairment measured by the MoCA test (r = -0.64, P = 0.006) but not with olfactory performance (r = 0.29, P = 0.12). Furthermore, a non-significant trend for an association between V-CSF and interleukin-6 emerged (r = 0.48, P = 0.068), a prominent marker of the COVID-19 related inflammatory response. In 14/20 patients who also received cerebral 18F-FDG PET, V-CSF increase was associated with the expression of the previously defined COVID-19-related metabolic spatial covariance pattern (r = 0.57; P = 0.039). In addition, the frontoparietal-dominant pattern of neocortical glucose hypometabolism matched well to the frontal and parietal focus of V-CSF increase. In summary, DMI in subacute COVID-19 patients revealed widespread volume shifts compatible with vasogenic oedema, affecting various supratentorial white matter tracts. These changes were associated with cognitive impairment and COVID-19 related changes in 18F-FDG PET imaging.

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