Plasma Biomarkers of Neuropathogenesis in Hospitalized Patients With COVID-19 and Those With Postacute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection

Barbara A. Hanson, Lavanya Visvabharathy, Sareen T. Ali, Anthony K. Kang, Tulsi R. Patel, Jeffrey R. Clark, Patrick H. Lim, Zachary S. Orban, Soyoon S. Hwang, Dawn Mattoon, Ayush Batra, Eric M. Liotta, Igor J. Koralnik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Background and ObjectivesAlthough patients hospitalized with COVID-19 frequently present with encephalopathy, those with mild initial COVID-19 disease who never required hospitalization also often develop neurologic symptoms as part of postacute sequelae of severe acute respiratory coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection (neuro-PASC). The pathogenic mechanisms of COVID-19 encephalopathy and neuro-PASC are unknown. We sought to establish biochemical evidence of CNS injury in those patients and their association with neuropsychiatric manifestations and SARS-CoV-2 antigenemia.MethodsWe recruited hospitalized, posthospitalized, and nonhospitalized patients with confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 with neurologic symptoms in addition to healthy control (HC) subjects. Plasma neurofilament light chain (pNfL), plasma glial fibrillary acidic protein (pGFAP), and plasma SARS-CoV-2 Nucleocapsid antigen (pN Ag) were measured by HD-X Simoa analyzer (Quanterix) and compared with neuropsychiatric symptoms, patient-reported quality-of-life measures, and standardized cognitive assessments. Neuroglial scores (pGFAP/pNfL) were calculated to estimate the relative contribution of astroglial and neuronal involvement.ResultsWe enrolled a total of 64 study participants, including 9 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 encephalopathy (CE), 9 posthospitalization neuro-PASC (PNP) patients, 38 nonhospitalized neuro-PASC (NNP) patients, and 8 HC subjects. Patients with CE were older, had higher pNfL and pGFAP concentrations, and more frequent pN Ag detection than all neuro-PASC groups. PNP and NNP patients exhibited similar PASC symptoms, decreased quality-of-life measures, and cognitive dysfunction, and 1 of the 38 (2.6%) NNP patients had pN Ag detectable 3 weeks postsymptoms onset. Patients with neuro-PASC presenting with anxiety/depression had higher neuroglial scores, which were correlated with increased anxiety on quality-of-life measures.DiscussionpNfL, pGFAP, and pN Ag measurements indicate neuronal dysfunction and systemic involvement in hospitalized COVID-19 patients with encephalopathy. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 N Ag in blood 3 weeks after symptoms onset in a nonhospitalized patient suggests that prolonged antigenic stimulation, or possibly latent infection, may occur. Anxiety was associated with evidence of astroglial activation in patients with neuro-PASC. These data shed new light on SARS-Cov-2 neuropathogenesis and demonstrate the value of plasma biomarkers across the COVID-19 disease spectrum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1151
JournalNeurology: Neuroimmunology and NeuroInflammation
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 7 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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