IDIVAL researchers explain the origin of COVID-19 headache and diarrhoea, two of the most frequent symptoms of this infection

This study sheds light on the processes that cause these ailments and possible future treatments.

A research team from the Marqués de Valdecilla Health Research Institute (IDIVAL) and the Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital (HUMV) has demonstrated the involvement of a molecule, a peptide known as CGRP, in COVID-19 infection, specifically in headache and diarrhoea, two of the most frequent symptoms. Until now, the mechanisms were unknown and this discovery opens up the possibility of future drug development.

The research has been funded by IDIVAL’s 2020 INNVAL innovation call to the research staff of IDIVAL’s Clinical and Genetics of Headaches Group, in collaboration with the Internal Medicine, Infectious and Digestive Services of HUMV.

The results of this study show that the levels of the CGRP molecule are elevated in patients with COVID-19 compared to healthy people, suggesting the involvement of this peptide in this disease. On the other hand, in those patients with headache, levels of a specific type of this molecule, the alpha isoform, are elevated as in patients with migraine headache. This finding suggests that the release of CGRP alpha is the explanation for the headache in patients with COVID-19.

Likewise, the presence of diarrhoea in COVID-19 patients corresponds with elevated levels of the beta isoform of the CGRP molecule in this case. These findings indicate that diarrhoea in this type of patient, whose cause was unknown, is related to elevated levels of CGRP-beta.

Ref: Gárate G, Pascual M, Rivero M, Toriello M, Pérez-Pereda S, González-Quintanilla V, Madera J, Gutiérrez-Cuadra M, Fariñas C, Hernández JL, Olmos JM, Pascual J, Serum calcitonin gene-related peptide a and b are increased in COVID-19 inpatients, Arch Med Res 2023; 54: 56-63.

Ref: Gárate G, Pascual M, Olmos JM, Fariñas C, Rivero M, Crespo J, Pascual J, Increase in serum calcitonin gene-related peptide b (CGRPb) in COVID-19 patients with diarrhea: an underlying mechanism? Dig Dis Sci 2022; 67: 5712-5713.

Ref: Gárate G, Toriello M, González-Quintanilla V, Pérez-Pereda S, Madera J, Pascual M, Olmos JM, Pascual J. Serum alpha-CGRP levels are increased in COVID-19 patients with headache indicating an activation of the trigeminal system. BMC Neurol 2023; 23: 109. Doi: 10.1186/s12883-023-03156-z.