MRI Assessment of Cerebral Blood Flow in Nonhospitalized Adults Who Self-Isolated Due to COVID-19

J Magn Reson Imaging. 2022 Dec 6;10.1002/jmri.28555. doi: 10.1002/jmri.28555. Online ahead of print.


Background: Neurological symptoms associated with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), such as fatigue and smell/taste changes, persist beyond infection. However, little is known of brain physiology in the post-COVID-19 timeframe.

Purpose: To determine whether adults who experienced flu-like symptoms due to COVID-19 would exhibit cerebral blood flow (CBF) alterations in the weeks/months beyond infection, relative to controls who experienced flu-like symptoms but tested negative for COVID-19.

Study type: Prospective observational.

Population: A total of 39 adults who previously self-isolated at home due to COVID-19 (41.9 ± 12.6 years of age, 59% female, 116.5 ± 62.2 days since positive diagnosis) and 11 controls who experienced flu-like symptoms but had a negative COVID-19 diagnosis (41.5 ± 13.4 years of age, 55% female, 112.1 ± 59.5 since negative diagnosis).

Field strength and sequences: A 3.0 T; T1-weighted magnetization-prepared rapid gradient and echo-planar turbo gradient-spin echo arterial spin labeling sequences.

Assessment: Arterial spin labeling was used to estimate CBF. A self-reported questionnaire assessed symptoms, including ongoing fatigue. CBF was compared between COVID-19 and control groups and between those with (n = 11) and without self-reported ongoing fatigue (n = 28) within the COVID-19 group.

Statistical tests: Between-group and within-group comparisons of CBF were performed in a voxel-wise manner, controlling for age and sex, at a family-wise error rate of 0.05.

Results: Relative to controls, the COVID-19 group exhibited significantly decreased CBF in subcortical regions including the thalamus, orbitofrontal cortex, and basal ganglia (maximum cluster size = 6012 voxels and maximum t-statistic = 5.21). Within the COVID-19 group, significant CBF differences in occipital and parietal regions were observed between those with and without self-reported on-going fatigue.

Data conclusion: These cross-sectional data revealed regional CBF decreases in the COVID-19 group, suggesting the relevance of brain physiology in the post-COVID-19 timeframe. This research may help elucidate the heterogeneous symptoms of the post-COVID-19 condition.

Evidence level: 2.

Technical efficacy: Stage 3.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; cerebral blood flow; fatigue; post-COVID-19.