After pouring millions into research studying long COVID, we finally have some progress: markers that could tell if you really have the condition.
Photo: Bing AI
Scientists believe that deciphering the mystery of long COVID requires early detection of the condition — possible through certain identifiable biomarkers. Several new studies have documented these biological changes that accompany long COVID, and one such study says that serotonin might be one of the key elements to look for.
Explainer: In their study published this Monday, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that the inflammation that occurred due to COVID-19 causes a drop in serotonin — a neurotransmitter involved in mood, memory, and digestion.
Few previous studies have already suggested a link between serotonin levels and the post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) infection.
Here’s what the researchers believe is happening: Viruses can linger in our bodies for months or years after initial infection. These viral remnants left behind can trigger persistent inflammation. This reduces the body’s ability to absorb tryptophan — a precursor of serotonin.
The study concludes that long COVID depletes “peripheral” serotonin, which circulates throughout the body and not just the brain. Along with memory, this interferes with the activity of the vagus nerve — the nerve that regulates digestion, respiratory rate, and heart rate.
Why it matters: PASC is an area of ongoing investigation, where a limitation in diagnosis makes it hard to link suffering individuals to long COVID.
Serotonin levels can be restored through supplementation with tryptophan or the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), animal studies showed.
Some researchers are looking to start a clinical trial that uses fluoxetine — an SSRI commonly marketed as Prozac — for the treatment of long COVID, noted the NY Times.