Emotional stress caused by last year’s tsunami caused a part of some survivors’ brains to shrink, according to scientists in Japan who grasped a unique chance to study the neurological effects of trauma.
On a quest to better understand post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the researchers compared brain scans they had taken of 42 healthy adolescents in other studies in the two years before the killer wave, with new images taken three to four months thereafter.
Among those with PTSD symptoms, they found a shrinking in the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in decision-making and the regulation of emotion, said a study published Tuesday in the Nature journal Molecular Psychiatry.
“The changed volumes in the orbitofrontal cortex are correlated to the severity of PTSD symptoms,” author Atsushi Sekiguchi told AFP.
Previous studies had already suggested that PTSD patients undergo changes to the brain, but this is the first to pinpoint which part of the organ is altered by trauma.
The full implications of these findings are so far unclear, but there could be an early benefit for doctors and patients. Telltale changes in brain volume may help easier diagnoses of PTSD and timely treatment with psychotherapy.