Lead: Sonia Villapol, Ph.D., Houston Methodist Research Institute, TX
It is now well known that COVID-19 affects the central nervous system. (PMID: 32528783). Damage to the olfactory nerve terminals in the nasal cavity has been shown in COVID-19 patients, affecting the sense of smell (PMID: 32253535). Additionally, other studies have demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 crosses the blood-brain barrier, reaching the cerebral vasculature through general circulation (PMID: 32367431). Ischemic stroke, cerebral venous thrombosis, and cerebral hemorrhage have also been associated with COVID-19 (PMID: 32568626, PMID: 32563566, PMID: 32554423, PMID: 32542103, PMID: 32530738).
COVID-19 patients that present with neurological manifestations such as headaches and confusion (PMID: 32565914) may be at risk of a higher incidence of neurodegenerative disorders in the future (PMID: 32364119, PMID: 32373651). SARS-CoV-2 also affects the brain-gut-microbiome axis by binding to the intestinal ACE2 receptors, substantially altering the intestinal flora and aggravating systemic inflammation or the cytokine storm in the most seriously ill patients (PMID: 32497191, PMID: 32495940, PMID: 32430279, PMID: 32396996). Uncovering the composition of the microbiota and its metabolic products in the context of COVID-19 can help determine novel biomarkers of the disease and help identify new therapeutic targets.(PMID: 328277059).
The neurology subgroup is investigating the changes in the gut microbiomes to viral load and inflammatory responses, in addition to links to COVID-19 associated neurological problems, such as stroke or multi-thrombosis. This subgroup will also analyze neuroimaging scans and ultrasounds in COVID-19 patients to characterize cardiovascular disturbances caused by SARS-CoV-2 and explore various mechanisms that induce brain recovery using animal models. Our group establishes collaborations with the “Microbial,” “Radiology and Imaging,” “Inflammation,” and other subgroups to determine the bacterial composition and the inflammatory states during different phases of COVID-19. Specifically, how these multisystemic and peripheral changes post-infection can affect neurological functions in the short and long term.