BACKGROUND After the initial surge in COVID-19 cases, large numbers of patients were discharged from a hospital without assessment of recovery. Now, an increasing number of patients report postacute neurological sequelae, known as “long COVID” — even those without specific neurological manifestations in the acute phase.METHODS Dynamic brain changes are crucial for a better understanding and early prevention of “long COVID.” Here, we explored the cross-sectional and longitudinal consequences of COVID-19 on the brain in 34 discharged patients without neurological manifestations. Gray matter morphology, cerebral blood flow (CBF), and volumes of white matter tracts were investigated using advanced magnetic resonance imaging techniques to explore dynamic brain changes from 3 to 10 months after discharge.RESULTS Overall, the differences of cortical thickness were dynamic and finally returned to the baseline. For cortical CBF, hypoperfusion in severe cases observed at 3 months tended to recover at 10 months. Subcortical nuclei and white matter differences between groups and within subjects showed various trends, including recoverable and long-term unrecovered differences. After a 10-month recovery period, a reduced volume of nuclei in severe cases was still more extensive and profound than that in mild cases.CONCLUSION Our study provides objective neuroimaging evidence for the coexistence of recoverable and long-term unrecovered changes in 10-month effects of COVID-19 on the brain. The remaining potential abnormalities still deserve public attention, which is critically important for a better understanding of “long COVID” and early clinical guidance toward complete recovery.FUNDING National Natural Science Foundation of China.
Tian Tian, Jinfeng Wu, Tao Chen, Jia Li, Su Yan, Yiran Zhou, Xiaolong Peng, Yuanhao Li, Ning Zheng, Aoling Cai, Qin Ning, Hongbing Xiang, Fuqiang Xu, Yuanyuan Qin, Wenzhen Zhu, Jie Wang
Flow diagram of the experimental design.