The Spectrum of Neuroimaging Findings on CT and MRI in Adults With COVID-19

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2021 Oct;217(4):959-974. doi: 10.2214/AJR.20.24839. Epub 2020 Nov 25.


Neurologic involvement is well-recognized in COVID-19. This article reviews the neuroimaging manifestations of COVID-19 on CT and MRI, presenting cases from the New York City metropolitan region encountered by the authors during the first surge of the pandemic. The most common neuroimaging manifestations are acute infarcts with large clot burden and intracranial hemorrhage, including microhemorrhages. However, a wide range of additional imaging patterns occur, including leukoencephalopathy, global hypoxic injury, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, cytotoxic lesions of the corpus callosum, olfactory bulb involvement, cranial nerve enhancement, and Guillain-Barré syndrome. The described CNS abnormalities largely represent secondary involvement from immune activation that leads to a prothrombotic state and cytokine storm; evidence for direct neuroinvasion is scant. Comorbidities such as hypertension, complications of prolonged illness and hospitalization, and associated supportive treatments also contribute to the CNS involvement in COVID-19. Routine long-term neurologic follow-up may be warranted, given emerging evidence of long-term microstructural and functional changes on brain imaging after COVID-19 recovery.

Keywords: COVID-19; CT; MRI; brain; coronavirus disease; neuroimaging; spine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Diseases / complications*
  • Brain Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*