Introduction: Post-COVID-19 condition refers to a range of persisting physical, neurocognitive, and neuropsychological symptoms after SARS-CoV-2 infection. Abnormalities in brain connectivity were found in recovered patients compared to non-infected controls. This study aims to evaluate the effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) on brain connectivity in post-COVID-19 patients.
Methods: In this randomized, sham-controlled, double-blind trial, 73 patients were randomized to receive 40 daily sessions of HBOT (n = 37) or sham treatment (n = 36). We examined pre- and post-treatment resting-state brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans to evaluate functional and structural connectivity changes, which were correlated to cognitive and psychological distress measures.
Results: The ROI-to-ROI analysis revealed decreased internetwork connectivity in the HBOT group which was negatively correlated to improvements in attention and executive function scores (p < 0.001). Significant group-by-time interactions were demonstrated in the right hippocampal resting state function connectivity (rsFC) in the medial prefrontal cortex (PFWE = 0.002). Seed-to-voxel analysis also revealed a negative correlation in the brief symptom inventory (BSI-18) score and in the rsFC between the amygdala seed, the angular gyrus, and the primary sensory motor area (PFWE = 0.012, 0.002). Positive correlations were found between the BSI-18 score and the left insular cortex seed and FPN (angular gyrus) (PFWE < 0.0001). Tractography based structural connectivity analysis showed a significant group-by-time interaction in the fractional anisotropy (FA) of left amygdala tracts (F = 7.81, P = 0.007). The efficacy measure had significant group-by-time interactions (F = 5.98, p = 0.017) in the amygdala circuit.
Conclusions: This study indicates that HBOT improves disruptions in white matter tracts and alters the functional connectivity organization of neural pathways attributed to cognitive and emotional recovery in post-COVID-19 patients. This study also highlights the potential of structural and functional connectivity analysis as a promising treatment response monitoring tool.
Keywords: Brain connectivity; Cognition; DTI; Post-COVID-19 condition; Resting state fMRI.
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