General, Research, Technology

Loneliness reduces brain volume

Scientists have suggested that life is relativeisolation and routine environment can lead to the reduction of certain brain structures. In order to confirm or refute their assumptions, nine researchers spent 14 cold months in Antarctica, and, according to the results of the study, left there with small losses in the total brain volume. In this case, is it possible that long-term loneliness harms the mental development of a person?

A group of scientists worked at an isolated research station on polar ice for several months in a row.

According to the New England Medical Journal,brain contraction can also undermine the ability of freight forwarders to process emotions and interact with other people because the hippocampus is a key factor in the development of cognitive abilities. Such changes in the brain, which were observed in the team, arrived from the Antarctic conditions, are additional confirmation of similar studies that were conducted on rodents. Even then, it was assumed that long periods of social isolation could weaken the brain's ability to create new neurons.

The Neumayer III station, where scientists lived, was able to become an excellent space analogue in order to assess the consequences of prolonged isolation

The main objective of the studywas a study of the effect of long space travel on the activity of the human brain. In order to conduct their experiment, a group of scientists needed to find a laboratory for research that would meet the necessary requirements for isolation from the outside world. The Neumayer III research station, which is located at the South Pole, was able to serve as an ideal place to conduct research.

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Before heading to the polar station,A group of scientists scanned the brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which creates a strong magnetic field and radio waves in order to create structural images of the brain. They also needed to measure the levels of a special protein, which is called the neurotrophic factor of the brain (BDNF). Such a protein ensures the growth of new neurons and allows supporting the vital activity of already adult cells. It is believed that without the BDNF protein, the hippocampus will not be able to create new neural connections.

When upon arrival from the expedition to the participantsmade regular measurements of brain volume, it turned out that the members of the experiment lost more than the hippocampus and BDNF protein for 14 months at the South Pole than the group of people who were at home. Among other things, it was revealed that the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, which is responsible for neurogenesis and records memories, decreased on average by 4-10% for the entire time spent at the research station.

Several scientists who have been identifiedthe largest volume loss in the dentate gyrus, also showed the worst results in the test of spatial processing and selective attention, compared with their own estimates before the expedition.

Scientists are currently exploring possibleways to prevent this kind of brain contraction. Among the most likely methods are special physical exercises, as well as the use of virtual reality to enhance sensory stimulation. Similar methods can be used to prevent the loss of brain volume by those astronauts who will go on a long journey to the Red Planet in the early 2030s.