BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: photosynthesaad

Is Long COVID-Induced Brain Fog Also Related to Blood Clots?

-As learned in AP Biology, the virus that causes COVID-19 is the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It has spike proteins attached to it that bind to the ACE2 receptors on our healthy cells which allow the virus to fuse with them. The viral envelope attaches to the membranes of our cells and then releases its genetic information to the inside of them. Its RNA hijacks the cells and instructs its machinery to create more virus particles, causing it to further infect the body.

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Shown above: SARS-CoV-2 virus with spike proteins attached.

After suffering from COVID-19, many people have experienced a condition called long COVID. Long COVID is a condition that causes either new or previously experienced symptoms from the COVID-19 virus to develop and linger for weeks, months, or even years after recovery. While scientists are constantly discovering more about the condition, they are still not completely sure what causes it. The variety of symptoms in addition to the lack of understanding regarding this topic result in the inability to properly treat the condition as a whole. Instead, doctors usually treat the symptoms individually and specifically to the patient. Some symptoms include chronic pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, intense fatigue, and brain fog. New research shows that long COVID-induced brain fog could possibly be linked to blood clots.

Data were collected from about 1840 unvaccinated adults in the UK who were hospitalized due to severe COVID symptoms. The patients provided blood samples when initially hospitalized, 6 months after hospitalization, and 1 year after hospitalization. They also completed cognitive tests and filled out questionnaires.

Blood clotting is a process that prevents uncontrolled blood loss when a blood vessel is injured. A type of blood cell called platelets combine with proteins in the plasma to form a clot over the injury. However, sometimes blood clots do not dissolve naturally or they can form when there is no injury, which can be very dangerous. Fibrinogen and D-dimer are two proteins involved in blood clotting, which were also later predicted to be linked to brain fog. Fibrinogen is created by the liver and is one of the main components in the formation of blood clots. D-dimer is a protein fragment that is released when the blood clot breaks down. People with more severe COVID cases and higher levels of fibrinogen proved to have worse memory and attention skills and overall rated their cognition more poorly on surveys. People with higher D-dimer levels also rated their cognition as poor and showed to have more trouble going back to work six to 12 months after recovery.

Figure 16.4.4 : Blood Clot

These proteins have already been linked to COVID-19 and fibrinogen has been linked to cognitive issues but scientists are still not completely sure how the proteins cause brain fog in long COVID. Dr. Maxime Taquet, a clinical psychiatrist at the University of Oxford, suspects that the blood clots could be blocking blood flow to the brain or directly interacting with nerve cells. Scientists wonder whether medicines used to treat blood clotting, such as blood thinners, could possibly reduce brain fog and other cognitive issues.

While I have not gotten an official diagnosis, I am very curious about long COVID because I experience many of the symptoms. I’ve had a lasting cough, brain fog, and reflux. Do you or have you ever experienced long COVID symptoms?

Does Lifestyle and Diet Affect Immune System Aging?

Have you ever heard of the thymus? If not, most people could probably say the same, despite the enormous role it plays in our overall health. The thymus is a small gland in the upper part of the chest that is crucial to the immune systems of children. After puberty, the gland was previously thought to become smaller, gradually turn to fat through a process called fatty regeneration, and lose its function. Through the use of CT scans, a recent study shows that contrary to prior belief, this organ can be significant in adults as well, and the state of it can be influenced by lifestyle, age, and sex.

Diagram showing the position of the thymus gland CRUK 362

The main function of the thymus is to develop all the body’s immune cells before puberty. In order to carry out this function, the gland produces the hormone thymosin. Cells called lymphocytes pass through the thymus where they are fully developed into T cells, with the help of the hormone. Once they are fully developed, they are transferred to the lymph nodes where they help the body fight off infections and prevent autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases occur when an immune system attacks cells from its own body. Have you ever touched your neck when sick and felt a small swollen part? Those are your lymph nodes! When you have an upper respiratory infection, more T cells rush to your lymph nodes to help your body fight off the illness. This is just one example of your immune system in action.

When you think of proteins, what is the first thing you think of? As presented in the AP Biology curriculum, proteins are not just a food group we eat everyday, though they are still very important to ingest! They are part of every cell in our bodies and therefore are crucial to the immune system and the thymus. Immune cells have receptor proteins attached to them that bind to foreign and potentially harmful substances, also called antigens. When the proteins bind to the substance, they trigger the body’s immune system to fight off the antigen. There are two types of immune systems: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system fights antigens mostly using killer cells and phagocytes (“eater cells”). The adaptive immune system makes antibodies that are made to fight off specific germs that the cell recognizes.

A new study performed in Sweden looked at the CT scans of 1000 people between the ages of 50-64, and examined the state of their thymuses. The people previously participated in the SCAPIS study which inspected their lifestyles and dietary habits. Results found that 6 out of 10 of the participants had a thymus that was completely turned to fat. It was more common in men and obese people. Dietary habits such as low fiber intake caused more fatty regeneration. People whose thymuses endured more fatty regeneration showed evidence of lower T cell regeneration. Ultimately, the CT scans showed the functionality of the thymus and the immune system. More studies must be performed to fully know whether or not the aging of the immune system affects our health, which is why this research will be expanded to the other 4000 participants of the SCAPIS study.

While people cannot change their sex and age, they can change their lifestyles. This study presents new information that can be used to help people improve their health. For example, I get the common cold once every few months and sometimes the grueling symptoms last for weeks. In the future, I will try to increase my fiber intake over a long period of time, which could possibly lower my chances of getting sick, feeling the harsh symptoms, or having them for a long time. I invite any and all comments to tell me whether or not this information could influence your lifestyle, and how.

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