Researchers have used artificial intelligence to investigate network-based relationships between COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease, in the hope of informing therapeutic treatments for both illnesses.
Cognitive impairment, like that seen in Alzheimer’s disease, has been increasingly reported as a long-term complication of the SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, the underlying mechanisms responsible for these neurological issues remains unclear. To develop preventative and therapeutic interventions, a deeper understanding of the causative processes by which COVID-19 leads to cognitive impairment is crucial.
Network-based relationships between COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease
Recently, researchers from the Genomic Medicine Institute in Cleveland Clinic conducted a network-based multimodal omics comparison of COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease pathology. Artificial intelligence (AI) was used to explore existing datasets of patients with Alzheimer’s and individuals with the SARS-CoV-2 infection. The genetic factors that were suspected to enable SARS-CoV-2 to infect brain tissue and cells were also analysed.
The team found significant network-based relationships between COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s-related neuroinflammation. However, instead of the virus targeting the brain directly, it was discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 infection increased the expression of biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Essentially, this indicated that COVID-19 may impact many genes or pathways involved in neuroinflammation, which could result in Alzheimer’s-like cognitive impairment.
Additionally, individuals with the allele that poses the greatest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, called APOE E4/E4, showed a reduced expression of antiviral defence genes. This implies that COVID-19 could pose a greater threat for Alzheimer’s patients.
Informing therapeutic strategies
Improving our understanding of how COVID-19 increases the expression of Alzheimer’s biomarkers may provide guidance for the future development of preventive interventions. Moreover, the overlap between COVID-19 and the neurological changes linked to Alzheimer’s could help to inform management strategies and aid the in location of novel targets for therapeutic investigation.
As COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease shared network-based relationships, repurposing coronavirus treatments to help patients suffering from dementia may have potential. For example, melatonin was recently identified as a drug that could be repurposed for COVID-19 treatment. Similarly, preclinical studies have also indicated that melatonin may be a suitable drug for Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, investigations into the shared neurological changes seen in both diseases, harnessing omics data and unbiased artificial intelligence technologies, should continue.
Dr Feixiong Cheng, a lead researcher of the project, explained:
“Ultimately, we hope to have paved the way for research that leads to testable and measurable biomarkers, capable of identifying patients at the highest risk for neurological complications with COVID-19. Identifying how COVID-19 and neurological problems are linked will be critical for developing effective preventive and therapeutic strategies to address the surge in neurocognitive impairments that we expect to see in the near future.”
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