A study led by Claudia Figueiredo and colleagues, explored perinatal or early life SARS-CoV-2 infections and their association with neurodevelopmental disorders like autism or schizophrenia. They reviewed research associating viral infections with impaired neurodevelopment along with evidence that SARS-CoV-2 infections have similar effects in the brain, but could not conclusively determine whether or by what mechanism SARS-CoV-2 increased the risk of neuropsychiatric disorders. Their results were published in Neuropharmacology.

The authors note that the pandemic presents an unrivaled opportunity to research the effects of maternal infection on neurodevelopment, and further studies are needed that, “assess the genuine effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy and delivery along with an extended follow-up of the offspring, including neurocognitive, neuroimaging, and electrophysiological examination.”

Investigators summarized evidence that children with inflammatory multisystem syndrome associated with SARS-CoV-2, as well as infected adults, showed neurologic manifestations and neuroimaging alterations. Thus, studies evaluating children from women infected during pregnancy as well as infected children are needed to determine whether the virus can influence future neuropsychiatric outcomes.

Additionally, investigators have identified soluble molecular markers that positively correlate to the birth of patients with schizophrenia, including IL-8, TNF-α, and IL-6. These markers are all present in higher levels in SARS-CoV-2-infected pregnant women, supporting the potential risk for neurodevelopmental disorders with SARS-CoV-2 infection in neonates.

Of note, olfactory function is altered in patients with schizophrenia, correlating with the intensity of negative symptoms and with a worse prognosis. Additionally, expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 has been reported in the nasal epithelium of human fetuses at gestation weeks 11 and 14, and the loss of sense of smell is a known symptom of COVID-19.

The authors concluded that while exposure to SARS-CoV-2 may have persistent effects on the immature brain, the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which SARS-CoV-2 infection contributes to risk of neuropsychiatric disorders in pregnancy or in young children are still unknown.


Source: Neuropharmacology