Brain. 2021 Dec 16:awab435. doi: 10.1093/brain/awab435. Online ahead of print.
There is growing evidence that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 can affect the CNS. However, data on white matter and cognitive sequelae at the one-year follow-up are lacking. Therefore, we explored these characteristics in this study. We investigated 22 recovered coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients and 21 matched healthy controls. Diffusion tensor imaging, diffusion kurtosis imaging and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging were performed to identify white matter changes, and the subscales of the Wechsler Intelligence scale were used to assess cognitive function. Correlations between diffusion metrics, cognitive function, and other clinical characteristics were then examined. We also conducted subgroup analysis based on patient admission to the intensive care unit. The corona radiata, corpus callosum and superior longitudinal fasciculus had lower volume fraction of intracellular water in the recovered COVID-19 group than in the healthy control group. Patients who had been admitted to the intensive care unit had lower fractional anisotropy in the body of the corpus callosum than those who had not. Compared with the healthy controls, the recovered COVID-19 patients demonstrated no significant decline in cognitive function. White matter tended to present with fewer abnormalities for shorter hospital stays and longer follow-up times. Lower axonal density was detected in clinically recovered COVID-19 patients after one year. Patients who had been admitted to the intensive care unit had slightly more white matter abnormalities. No significant decline in cognitive function was found in recovered COVID-19 patients. The duration of hospital stay may be a predictor for white matter changes at the one-year follow-up.