Scientists identify gene linking severe COVID and Alzheimer’s

gene severe covid, alzheimers
© Gumpanat Thavankitdumrong

A new study has uncovered a gene that links severe COVID and Alzheimer’s, via “immune system changes” that can happen in both conditions

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers from the UK Dementia Research Institute at UCL turned their attention to investigating the long-term neurological consequences of the virus.

Using biomarkers found in the blood and fluid surrounding the central nervous system, they are aiming to track neuroinflammation and injury to the neurons.

The gene increases likelihood by 3-6%

Lead author Dr Dervis Salih, at the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology and UK Dementia Research Institute, said: “While Alzheimer’s is primarily characterised by harmful build-up of amyloid protein and tangles in the brain, there is also extensive inflammation in the brain that highlights the importance of the immune system in Alzheimer’s.

“We have found that some of the same immune system changes can occur in both Alzheimer’s disease and Covid-19.”

Now, they have found an anti-viral gene which impacts the risk of both Alzheimer’s disease and severe COVID. The researchers estimate that one genetic variant of the OAS1 gene increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by about 3-6% in the population as a whole, while related variants on the same gene increase the likelihood of severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Possibility of developing a “blood test” for Alzheimer’s

Dr Salih further said: “If we could develop a simple way of testing for these genetic variants when someone tests positive for Covid-19, then it might be possible to identify who is at greater risk of needing critical care, but there is plenty more work to be done to get us there. Similarly, we hope that our research could feed into the development of a blood test to identify whether someone is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s before they show memory problems.

“We are also continuing to research what happens once this immune network has been activated in response to an infection like Covid-19, to see whether it leads to any lasting effects or vulnerabilities, or if understanding the brain’s immune response to Covid-19, involving the OAS1 gene, may help to explain some of the neurological effects of Covid-19.”


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