Tracts in the limbic system show microstructural alterations post COVID-19 recovery

Sapna S. Mishra, Caterina A. Pedersini, Rohit Misra, Tapan K. Gandhi, Bas Rokers, Bharat B. Biswal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Delirium, memory loss, attention deficit and fatigue are frequently reported by COVID survivors, yet the neurological pathways underlying these symptoms are not well understood. To study the possible mechanisms for these long-term sequelae after COVID-19 recovery, we investigated the microstructural properties of white matter in Indian cohorts of COVID-recovered patients and healthy controls. For the cross-sectional study presented here, we recruited 44 COVID-recovered patients and 29 healthy controls in New Delhi, India. Using deterministic whole-brain tractography on the acquired diffusion MRI scans, we traced 20 white matter tracts and compared fractional anisotropy, axial, mean and radial diffusivity between the cohorts. Our results revealed statistically significant differences (PFWE < 0.01) in the uncinate fasciculus, cingulum cingulate, cingulum hippocampus and arcuate fasciculus in COVID survivors, suggesting the presence of microstructural abnormalities. Additionally, in a subsequent subgroup analysis based on infection severity (healthy control, non-hospitalized patients and hospitalized patients), we observed a correlation between tract diffusion measures and COVID-19 infection severity. Although there were significant differences between healthy controls and infected groups, we found no significant differences between hospitalized and non-hospitalized COVID patients. Notably, the identified tracts are part of the limbic system and orbitofrontal cortex, indicating microstructural differences in neural circuits associated with memory and emotion. The observed white matter alterations in the limbic system resonate strongly with the functional deficits reported in Long COVID. Overall, our study provides additional evidence that damage to the limbic system could be a neuroimaging signature of Long COVID. The findings identify targets for follow-up studies investigating the long-term physiological and psychological impact of COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberfcae139
JournalBrain Communications
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2024


  • COVID-19
  • diffusion-weighted imaging
  • limbic system
  • post-COVID symptoms
  • tractography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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