Nervous System Involvement in Coronavirus Disease 2019: Results from a Retrospective Consecutive Neuroimaging Cohort

Radiology. 2020 Dec;297(3):E324-E334. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2020202791. Epub 2020 Jul 30.


Background Neurologic complications in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have been described, but the understanding of their pathophysiologic causes and neuroanatomical correlates remains limited. Purpose To report on the frequency and type of neuroradiological findings in COVID-19. Materials and Methods In this retrospective study, all consecutive adult hospitalized patients with polymerase chain reaction positivity for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 and who underwent neuroimaging at Karolinska University Hospital between March 2 and May 24, 2020, were included. All examinations were systematically re-evaluated by 12 readers. Summary descriptive statistics were calculated. Results A total of 185 patients with COVID-19 (62 years ± 14 [standard deviation]; 138 men) underwent neuroimaging. In total, 222 brain CT, 47 brain MRI, and seven spinal MRI examinations were performed. Intra-axial susceptibility abnormalities were the most common finding (29 of 39; 74%, 95% CI: 58, 87) in patients who underwent brain MRI, often with an ovoid shape suggestive of microvascular pathology and with a predilection for the corpus callosum (23 of 39; 59%; 95% CI: 42, 74) and juxtacortical areas (14 of 39; 36%; 95% CI: 21, 53). Ischemic and macrohemorrhagic manifestations were also observed, but vascular imaging did not demonstrate overt abnormalities. Dynamic susceptibility contrast perfusion MRI in 19 patients did not reveal consistent asymmetries between hemispheres or regions. Many patients (18 of 41; 44%; 95% CI: 28, 60) had leukoencephalopathy and one patient had a cytotoxic lesion of the corpus callosum. Other findings included olfactory bulb signal abnormalities (seven of 37; 19%), prominent optic nerve subarachnoid spaces (20 of 36; 56%), and enhancement of the parenchyma (three of 20; 15%), leptomeninges (three of 20; 15%), cranial nerves (two of 20; 10%), and spinal nerves (two of four; 50%). At MRI follow-up, regression of leukoencephalopathy and progressive leptomeningeal enhancement was observed in one patient each, respectively, which is suggestive of dynamic processes. Conclusion Patients with coronavirus disease 2019 had a wide spectrum of vascular and inflammatory involvement of both the central and peripheral nervous system. © RSNA, 2020 Online supplemental material is available for this article.

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • COVID-19
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Nervous System Diseases / complications*
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Spine / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*