Brain structural plasticity in survivors of a major earthquake

Su Lui, Long Chen, Li Yao, Yuan Xiao, Qi Zhu Wu, Jun Ran Zhang, Xiao Qi Huang, Wei Zhang, Yu Qin Wang, Hua Fu Chen, Raymond C K Chan, John A. Sweeney, Qi Yong Gong

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16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Stress responses have been studied extensively in animal models, but effects of major life stress on the human brain remain poorly understood. The aim of this study was to determine whether survivors of a major earthquake, who were presumed to have experienced extreme emotional stress during the disaster, demonstrate differences in brain anatomy relative to individuals who have not experienced such stressors. Methods: Healthy survivors living in an area devastated by a major earthquake and matched healthy controls underwent 3-dimentional high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Survivors were scanned 13-25 days after the earthquake; controls had undergone MRI for other studies not long before the earthquake. We used optimized voxel-based morphometry analysis to identify regional differences of grey matter volume between the survivors and controls. Results: We included 44 survivors (17 female, mean age 37 [standard deviation (SD) 10.6] yr) and 38 controls (14 female, mean age 35.3 [SD 11.2] yr) in our analysis. Compared with controls, the survivors showed significantly lower grey matter volume in the bilateral insula, hippocampus, left caudate and putamen, and greater grey matter volume in the bilateral orbitofrontal cortex and the parietal lobe (all p < 0.05, corrected for multiple comparison). Limitations: Differences in the variance of survivor and control data could impact study findings. Conclusion: Acute anatomic alterations could be observed in earthquake survivors in brain regions where functional alterations after stress have been described. Anatomic changes in the present study were observed earlier than previously reported and were seen in prefrontal-limbic, parietal and striatal brain systems. Together with the results of previous functional imaging studies, our observations suggest a complex pattern of human brain response to major life stress affecting brain systems that modulate and respond to heightened affective arousal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-387
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Volume38
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2013

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Pharmacology (medical)

Cite this

Lui, S., Chen, L., Yao, L., Xiao, Y., Wu, Q. Z., Zhang, J. R., Huang, X. Q., Zhang, W., Wang, Y. Q., Chen, H. F., Chan, R. C. K., Sweeney, J. A., & Gong, Q. Y. (2013). Brain structural plasticity in survivors of a major earthquake. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 38(6), 381-387. https://doi.org/10.1503/jpn.120244