Increased levels of circulating neurotoxic metabolites in patients with mild Covid19

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SARS-CoV-2 corona virus causes a multi-faceted and poorly defined clinical and pathological phenotype involving hyperinflammation, cytokine release, and long-term cognitive deficits, with an undefined neuropathological mechanism. Inflammation increases the activity of the kynurenine pathway, which is linked to neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders. We sought to determine whether the kynurenine pathway is impacted in patients with mild COVID-19, leading to elevated neurotoxic metabolites in blood, and whether such changes are associated with pro-inflammatory cytokines. Serum samples were taken from 150 patients and analyzed by ELISA and ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC). The data were analyzed using multiple linear regression models adjusted for age and sex. We found increased levels of kynurenine, quinolinic acid and 3-hydroxykynurenine in serum from patients with mild COVID-19, together with increased levels of IL-6, ICAM-1, VCAM-1 and neopterin. The levels of neurotoxic metabolites were significantly associated with key inflammatory cytokines including IL-6 and TNFα. The COVID-19 risk-factor hypertension was associated with the highest levels of neurotoxic metabolites in plasma. These neuroactive metabolites could be part of the pathological mechanisms underlying cognitive impairment during and post-COVID and should be explored as potential biomarkers for long-COVID symptoms.