SARS-CoV-2-related encephalitis with prominent parkinsonism: clinical and FDG-PET correlates in two patients.

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Considering the similarities with other pandemics due to respiratory virus infections and subsequent development of neurological disorders (e.g. encephalitis lethargica after the 1918 influenza), there is growing concern about a possible new wave of neurological complications following the worldwide spread of SARS-CoV-2. However, data on COVID-19-related encephalitis and movement disorders are still limited. Herein, we describe the clinical and neuroimaging (FDG-PET/CT, MRI and DaT-SPECT) findings of two patients with COVID-19-related encephalopathy who developed prominent parkinsonism. None of the patients had previous history of parkinsonian signs/symptoms, and none had prodromal features of Parkinson's disease (hyposmia or RBD). Both developed a rapidly progressive form of atypical parkinsonism along with distinctive features suggestive of encephalitis. A possible immune-mediated etiology was suggested in Patient 2 by the presence of CSF-restricted oligoclonal bands, but none of the patients responded favorably to immunotherapy. Interestingly, FDG-PET/CT findings were similar in both cases and reminiscent of those observed in post-encephalitic parkinsonism, with cortical hypo-metabolism associated with hyper-metabolism in the brainstem, mesial temporal lobes, and basal ganglia. Patient's FDG-PET/CT findings were validated by performing a Statistical Parametric Mapping analysis and comparing the results with a cohort of healthy controls (n = 48). Cerebrum cortical thickness map was obtained in Patient 1 from MRI examinations to evaluate the structural correlates of the metabolic alterations detected with FDG-PET/CT. Hypermetabolic areas correlated with brain regions showing increased cortical thickness, suggesting their involvement during the inflammatory process. Overall, these observations suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infection may trigger an encephalitis with prominent parkinsonism and distinctive brain metabolic alterations.

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Authors: Mauro Morassi, Francesco Palmerini, Stefania Nici, Eugenio Magni, Giordano Savelli, Ugo Paolo Guerra, Matteo Chieregato, Silvia Morbelli, Alberto Vogrig


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