Authors: Sabel BA, Zhou W, Huber F, Schmidt F, Sabel K

PMID: 34924406 PMCID: PMC8764598 DOI: 10.3233/RNN-211249


Background: An effective treatment is needed for long-COVID patients which suffer from symptoms of vision and/or cognition impairment such as impaired attention, memory, language comprehension, or fatigue.

Objective: Because COVID-19infection causes reduced blood flow which may cause neuronal inactivation, we explored if neuromodulation with non-invasive brain stimulation using microcurrent (NIBS), known to enhance blood flow and neuronal synchronization, can reduce these symptoms.

Methods: Two female long-COVID patients were treated for 10-13 days with alternating current stimulation of the eyes and brain. While one patient (age 40) was infected with the SARS CoV-2 virus, the other (age 72) developed symptoms following AstraZeneca vaccination. Before and after therapy, cognition was assessed subjectively by interview and visual fields quantified using perimetry. One patient was also tested with a cognitive test battery and with a retinal dynamic vascular analyser (DVA), a surrogate marker of vascular dysregulation in the brain.

Results: In both patients NIBS markedly improved cognition and partially reversed visual field loss within 3-4 days. Cognitive tests in one patient confirmed recovery of up to 40-60% in cognitive subfunctions with perimetry results showing stable and visual field recovery even during follow-up. DVA showed that NIBS reduced vascular dysregulation by normalizing vessel dynamics (dilation/constriction), with particularly noticeable changes in the peripheral veins and arteries.

Conclusions: NIBS was effective in improving visual and cognitive deficits in two confirmed SARS-COV-2 patients. Because recovery of function was associated with restoration of vascular autoregulation, we propose that (i) hypometabolic, “silent” neurons are the likely biological cause of long-COVID associated visual and cognitive deficits, and (ii) reoxygenation of these “silent” neurons provides the basis for neural reactivation and neurological recovery. Controlled trials are now needed to confirm these observations.

Keywords: Vision; cognition; corona; neuromodulation; recovery; restoration.