Acute impact on brain function in earthquake survivors

August 31, 2009

New research has found that the Wenchuan, China earthquake that occurred on 12 May 2008 had an acute impact on the brain function of physically healthy survivors and poses a risk to the mental health of these survivors. The results of the study, which was carried out by the Institute of Psychiatry in collaboration with colleagues from universities in China, the US and Liverpool, have been published in PNAS online today.

The researchers wanted to gain a better understanding of how functional brain systems adapt to severe . Previous animal studies have demonstrated the importance of limbic, paralimbic, striatal, and prefrontal structures of the brain in stress and fear responses. Human studies, which have focused primarily on patients with clinically established posttraumatic stress disorders, have reported abnormalities in similar brain structures. However, little is known at present about potential alterations of brain function in trauma survivors shortly after traumatic events such as an .

The epicentre of the devastating 12 May 2008 earthquake occurred in Wenchuan, in the Sichuan Province of China. It measured 8.0 on the Richter scale. The most severely affected geographical regions were Yingxiu, Wenchuan, Dujiangyan, and Shifang, where 45 million people were directly affected. Among them, 69,146 people were confirmed dead, 374,131 were seriously injured, and 17,516 are missing.

A significant proportion of the survivors (around 20 per cent) are likely to develop stress-related disorders, such as acute stress disorder (ASD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr Andrea Mechelli from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London and one of the authors of the study comments: 'Given the serious and persistent impact of these highly prevalent psychiatric disorders, it is vital to develop a better understanding of the alterations of cerebral function evident in the early stages of adaptation to trauma. Such knowledge may lead to a better understanding of posttraumatic responses and the development of more effective early interventions.'

Using a method known as 'resting-state fMRI', the researchers examined 44 healthy survivors and 32 controls shortly (13󈞅 days) after the massive psychological trauma. They found that significant alterations in brain function similar to those observed in posttraumatic stress disorders, can be seen shortly after major traumatic experiences, highlighting the need for early evaluation and intervention for the survivors.

Previous studies were performed with victims of trauma that took place years or even decades earlier. No clinical study had yet investigated alterations in cerebral function in survivors soon after a massive widespread disaster, such as an earthquake.

The results of this study demonstrate that individuals experiencing severe emotional trauma showed hyperactivity in certain areas of the brain, and decreased functional connectivity in others, shortly after the massively traumatic Wenchuan earthquake. In particular, the findings indicate that traumatic experiences affect not only regional function but also dynamic interactions within brain networks. It is not clear whether this pattern of brain alteration remains the same or evolves further over the following weeks or months after the traumatic experiences.

Dr Mechelli continues: 'A better understanding of the impact of traumatic events on brain function may help us identify those in need of early treatment and reduce the long-term psychological impact in trauma survivors of national disasters, military conflict, and other causes of severe emotional distress.'

Longitudinal studies of trauma survivors may provide further insight into how alterations in evolve over time after severe , as well as their relation to the potential later emergence of stress-related disorders.

Source: King's College London (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nighmare
not rated yet Sep 01, 2009
this another brove of how weak human are

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.