COVID-19 is Associated with an Unusual Pattern of Brain Microbleeds in Critically Ill Patients

J Neuroimaging. 2020 Sep;30(5):593-597. doi: 10.1111/jon.12755. Epub 2020 Jul 8.


Background and purpose: Covid-19, initially described as a respiratory system's infection, is currently more and more recognized as a multiorganic disease, including neurological manifestations. There is growing evidence about a potential neuroinvasive role of SARS-CoV-2. The purpose of this study is to describe new findings, in the form of cerebral microbleeds affecting different brain structures, observed in MRIs of critically ill patients.

Methods: For this purpose, the MR images of 9 patients with a common pattern of abnormal findings (2 women/7 men; 55-79 years of age; mean age: 67.7 years) were depicted. All patients were tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and presented with delayed recovery of consciousness or important agitation, requiring brain MRI.

Results: All patients had suffered from severe (5/9) or moderate (4/9) acute respiratory distress syndrome, requiring prolonged stay in the intensive care unit. Their common MRI finding was the presence of microbleeds in unusual distribution with a specific predilection for the corpus callosum. Other uncommon locations of microbleeds were the internal capsule (5/9), as well as middle cerebellar peduncles (5/9). Subcortical regions were also affected in the majority of patients.

Conclusions: Brain MRI raised evidence that Covid-19 or its related treatment may involve the brain with an unusual pattern of microbleeds, predominantly affecting the corpus callosum. The mechanism of this finding is still unclear but the differential diagnosis should include thrombotic microangiopathy related to direct or indirect-through the cytokine cascade-damage by the SARS-CoV-2 on the endothelium of brain's vessels, as well as mechanisms similar to the hypoxemia brain-blood-barrier injury.

Keywords: Brain; Covid-19; MRI; corpus callosum; infection; microbleeds.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / etiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications*
  • Corpus Callosum
  • Critical Illness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications*
  • SARS-CoV-2