We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data. We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


Common Symptom of COVID-19 Linked to Altered Brain Glucose Metabolism

Common Symptom of COVID-19 Linked to Altered Brain Glucose Metabolism content piece image
Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 2 minutes

Researchers have identified a connection between aberrant energy metabolism in the brain and delirium  - the state of  impaired cognition in people who are unwell. This symptom is proving common in people hospitalized with COVID-19.

While much of the research was conducted in mice, additional work suggests overlapping mechanisms are at play in humans because cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collected from patients suffering from delirium also contained tell-tale markers of altered brain glucose metabolism.

Collectively, the research, which has just been published in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that therapies focusing on brain energy metabolism may offer new routes to mitigating delirium.


When the body experiences high levels of inflammation - such as during bacterial or viral infections - the way our brains function changes, which in turn affects our mood and motivation. In older patients such acute inflammation can produce a profound disturbance of brain function known as delirium. Despite the disorder being relatively common, the mechanisms by which it arises are poorly understood.

In the new research the scientists found that artificially inducing peripheral inflammation in mice triggered sudden onset cognitive dysfunction, and that this is mediated by a disturbance to energy metabolism.

In these experiments, inflammation left the mice with lower levels of blood sugar (glucose), which the brain requires for maintaining normal function. When the animals were supplemented with glucose, their cognitive performance returned towards normal, despite the continued inflammation.

Professor Colm Cunningham, who leads the Trinity Biomedical Science Institute lab where the work was performed, said: "An important feature of these experiments was that mice with early stages of pre-existing neurodegenerative disease were far more susceptible to dysfunction when these metabolic changes occurred.

"Our collaborators in Oslo also detected evidence of altered brain glucose metabolism in cerebrospinal fluid taken from people experiencing delirium, which argues for overlapping mechanisms in humans and mice. In other words, the signs are that similar processes are at work in people."

Dr Wes Ely, a critical care physician from Vanderbilt University, who wasn't involved with the study, added: "The finding that the neurodegenerative animals are less resilient to this disturbance of energy metabolism really resonates with what we see in our intensive care unit patients with delirium."

Given the frequency of delirium during hospitalised members of the elderly population and, given that these episodes can accelerate the progress of underlying dementia treatments are desperately needed.

Professor Cunningham added: "Simply providing glucose to patients is not likely to treat delirium in most cases but collectively our data emphasise that an appropriate supply of both oxygen and glucose to the brain becomes especially important in older patients and in those with existing dementia. Therefore, we believe that focusing on brain energy metabolism may offer routes to mitigating delirium."

Kealy, J., Murray, C., Griffin, E. W., Lopez-Rodriguez, A. B., Healy, D., Tortorelli, L. S., Lowry, J. P., Watne, L. O., & Cunningham, C. (2020). Acute Inflammation Alters Brain Energy Metabolism in Mice and Humans: Role in Suppressed Spontaneous Activity, Impaired Cognition, and Delirium. Journal of Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2876-19.2020

This article has been republished from materials provided by Trinity College Dublin. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.