Stress shrank brain area of Japan tsunami survivors: study

May 22, 2012 by Mariette le Roux

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 .

"The changed volumes in the 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 may help easier diagnoses of PTSD and timely treatment with psychotherapy.

The researchers also found that people with a smaller before a traumatic event were more prone to develop PTSD thereafter.

This part of the brain is also believed to be involved in decision-making and emotion.

"We think these changes are not permanent, because many past studies showed that were recovered by some therapies or interventions," said Sekiguchi.

"To confirm this, we have already started to follow up the subjects."

None of the 42 had been diagnosed with full-blown PTSD, but displayed symptoms to various degrees of severity.

Symptoms of PTSD, a severe form of depression, include flashbacks, emotional numbness, sleepnessness and hypervigilance caused by the horrors a person had experienced.

Sekiguchi, from Tokohu University's department of functional brain imaging, conceded the sample size was small, but insisted "there is some mathematical validity to generalise to a broad population from our data".

The subjects all lived in an inland area of the quake-ravaged city of Sendai.

"Not only the earthquake itself, but also frequent after-quakes, radioactive materials leaked from nuclear plants, and many inconveniences after the quake, such as stopping utilities, caused stressful periods," for the subjects, the scientist said.

Some 19,000 people died when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011 triggered a tsunami, followed by a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

"This extremely miserable episode provided a rare opportunity for investigating brain structural changes associated with such a disaster," the authors wrote.

Explore further: Chronic post-traumatic stress disorder in women linked to history of rape, child abuse

Related Stories

Chronic post-traumatic stress disorder in women linked to history of rape, child abuse

November 29, 2011
A Florida State University clinical psychologist has identified factors that could cause some women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to have chronic, persistent symptoms while others recover naturally over time.

Marijuana blocks PTSD symptoms in rats: study

September 20, 2011
Marijuana administered in a timely fashion could block the development of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in rats, a new study conducted at Haifa University has found.

Researchers find novel drug target for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder

September 5, 2011
A team of researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has identified a promising therapeutic target in the brain that could lead to the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the first evidence of a ...

Researchers induce PTSD symptoms in mice

February 24, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition in which people find themselves experiencing intense fear following a traumatic experience due to unrelated circumstances. It’s quite common in ...

Cancer patients suffer PTSD years after diagnosis

October 14, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Even after surviving cancer treatment, a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that many cancer patients suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, that can worsen as ...

The search for predictors of risk for post-traumatic stress disorder

September 5, 2011
Data in a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggest that certain variants of a gene that helps regulate serotonin (a brain chemical related to mood), may serve as a useful predictor of risk for symptoms ...

Recommended for you

Color of judo uniform has no effect on winning

February 22, 2018
New research on competitive judo data finds a winning bias for the athlete who is first called, regardless of the colour of their uniform. This unique study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, puts to rest the debate on ...

Antidepressants are more effective than placebo at treating acute depression in adults, concludes study

February 22, 2018
Meta-analysis of 522 trials includes the largest amount of unpublished data to date, and finds that antidepressants are more effective than placebo for short-term treatment of acute depression in adults.

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

How people cope with difficult life events fuels development of wisdom, study finds

February 21, 2018
How a person responds to a difficult life event such as a death or divorce helps shape the development of their wisdom over time, a new study from Oregon State University suggests.

Researchers uncover novel mechanism behind schizophrenia

February 21, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine scientist has uncovered a novel mechanism in which a protein—neuregulin 3—controls how key neurotransmitters are released ...

Self-compassion may protect people from the harmful effects of perfectionism

February 21, 2018
Relating to oneself in a healthy way can help weaken the association between perfectionism and depression, according to a study published February 21, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Madeleine Ferrari from Australian ...

0 comments

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.