A new analyze is receiving some attention, as it statements that the COVID-19 lockdown has afflicted peoples’ brain structure. The work is a preprint, meaning that it has not been peer reviewed however. It can be available right here.

To be very clear, the new analyze is not declaring that precise infection with the coronavirus has an effect on the brain. Alternatively, the analyze is about the effects of the total COVID-19 expertise in nutritious folks.

Scientists Tom Salomon and colleagues scanned 50 nutritious volunteers in Israel. All of them ended up specified an MRI scan between May well and July of 2020, which was following the finish of the first lockdown time period in Israel. Crucially, all of the identical volunteers had also been scanned ahead of COVID started off, primarily in 2019. (Presumably the first scans ended up section of a diverse analyze.)

By evaluating the ahead of and following-lockdown MRI scans of the identical folks, Salomon et al. uncovered increases in the quantity of the amygdala, and close by areas, following lockdown:

Increases in brain quantity following COVID-19 lockdown, from Salomon et al. (2020)

The identical adjustments ended up not observed in a diverse team of 50 volunteers who ended up scanned two times, each periods ahead of COVID-19. This suggests that the adjustments ended up not just caused by the passage of time.

The authors hypothesize that psychological stresses might have been dependable for the brain adjustments they observed. The amygdala, they notice, is acknowledged to be linked with tension and emotion:

Our analyze demonstrates that volumetric alter patterns in the brain occurred subsequent the COVID-19 preliminary outbreak time period and constraints… The involvement of the amygdala might propose that tension and stress and anxiety could be the source of the observed phenomenon.

Last but not least, the authors propose that the authorities really should get heed of these final results and look at the prices of lockdown:

Our findings clearly show nutritious younger grownups, with no data of mental wellness issues, ended up deeply afflicted by the outbreak of COVID-19. We propose that policy makers get into consideration the effects of their steps on the basic well-becoming of the population they find to support, along with the efficacy of disorder avoidance.

In my check out, Salomon et al.’s analyze is rather intriguing. I was really skeptical when I first listened to of it, but following looking through it, the methods do appear solid.

However, there is certainly no escaping that the analyze has a constrained sample dimension. For a analyze of adjustments in brain structure over time, 50 people scanned two times is smaller. (To give an illustration of modern day sample dimension requirements, this analyze had n=1683 folks scanned two times.)

Then yet again, Salomon et al. are to be congratulated for carrying out this analyze at all – the extensive vast majority of MRI investigation was set on keep as a end result of COVID-19. In most instances, it still has not restarted. So the really actuality that this analyze exists at all is an achievement. But I will not think these final results, on their own, are that persuasive.

I also will not think these final results really should essentially alarm policymakers. A brain quantity alter can be interpreted many techniques. (Particularly a quantity increase, which on the face of it, is a superior thing, not a negative thing.)

Certain, we could interpret the enhanced quantity of the amygdala as evidence that lockdown produced folks extra anxious and fearful, but we could also interpret it as reflecting folks turning out to be extra supportive of the govt because of to the national crisis. I will not think the latter interpretation is very likely, but the previous is not much greater.