Featured News COVID-19 and the brain

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Fri, 18 Mar 2022

COVID-19 and the brain

Image: David Matos

A James Cook University neuroscientist is set to answer questions about COVID-19’s effect on the brain at a public lecture tonight, to mark the end of Brain Awareness Week.

Professor Zoltan Sarnyai from JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine said not all diseases of the brain start as a brain disease.

“A variety of conditions we traditionally associate with the body have serious consequences on the architecture and the function of the brain. For example, Type-2 diabetes can have an impact on brain regions that underlie cognitive functions. Similarly, the impaired provision of energy may contribute to the early stages of dementia,” said Professor Sarnyai.

He said infections of all sorts may have direct or indirect effects on the brain.

“We develop fever during a bacterial infection because the outer surface of the bacteria activates our immune response in the body, which, in turn tells the brain to change the body temperature to fight the infection.”

He said certain viruses can get into the brain directly through the nerves in the body, multiply in brain cells and kill them.

“The poliovirus that killed or paralysed tens of thousands of children until the introduction of the vaccination programs did exactly that; killing nerves cells that are responsible for moving our muscles,” said Professor Sarnyai.

He will talk about COVID-19 in this context on Friday.

“I’ll be speaking about what we know about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the workings of our brain, the organ that makes us human.

“Such impacts can arise from the virus directly acting on the brain, but also from the psychosocial effects of uncertainty, social isolation and chronic stress,” said Professor Sarnyai.

He said there is anxiety in the community over the seriousness and impact of ‘long COVID’ and whether we can do anything about it.

“My lecture aims to address the questions that are in everybody’s mind these days and hopefully provide some certainty about what we know and where we go from here as a community,” said Professor Sarnyai.

The lecture will take place at 6 pm, Friday 18 March in the Science Place Lecture Theater, (Building 142) on JCU’s Bebegu Yumba campus (Douglas, Townsville) and via a Zoom webinar. Please see JCU’s interactive online map for directions.

Numbers for in-person tickets are capped at 150.Register here for the webinar or if you would like to attend in person.


Professor Zoltan Sarnyai
E: zoltan.sarnyai@jcu.edu.au