What can we learn from brain autopsies in COVID-19?

Neurosci Lett. 2021 Jan 18;742:135528. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2020.135528. Epub 2020 Nov 25.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) for which there have been over 50 million confirmed cases and 1.2 million deaths globally. While many SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals are asymptomatic or experience respiratory symptoms, extrapulmonary manifestations, including neurological symptoms and conditions, are increasingly recognized. There remains no clear understanding of the mechanisms that underlie neurological symptoms in COVID-19 and whether SARS-CoV-2 has the potential for neuroinvasion in humans. In this minireview, we discuss what is known from human autopsies in fatal COVID-19, including highlighting studies that investigate for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in brain and olfactory tissue, and summarize the neuropathological consequences of infection. Incorporating microscopic and molecular findings from brain tissue into what we know about clinical disease will inform best practice management guidance and direct research priorities as it relates to neurological morbidity from COVID-19.

Keywords: Brain autopsies; COVID-19; Immunohistochemistry; Neuropathogenesis; Neuropathology; Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction; SARS-CoV-2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / virology*
  • COVID-19 / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*