(Oslo, Sunday, June 30, 2019) The Holocaust survival has shown a lifelong and lasting negative impact on the surviving brain structure as well as potentially affecting their offspring and grandchildren, according to a new study.
The new research, presented today at the 5th European Neurology Congress, showed that survival of the Holocaust had a psychological and biological impact on life, and the reduction of gray matter affected brain parts responsive to stress, memory, motivation, emotion learning and behavior.
Using MRI scans, the study considered brain function 56 people of average age 79-80 years, comparing 28 surviving Holocausts with 28 controls that did not have personal or family history of the Holocaust. Survivors showed a significantly reduced amount of gray matter in the brain compared to controls of a similar age that were not directly exposed to Holocaust through personal or family history.
The study is the difference between survivors above and below 12 years in 1945 and found that reduction in gray matter is much more pronounced in younger survivors, attributable to greater vulnerability to stressful environments in childhood development. According to previous studies, research has shown a decrease in gray matter in brain areas associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in combat veterans and those suffering from stressful early life experiences. However, the study also showed that the reduction of gray matter in other parts of the brain far exceeded what was previously found in people suffering from PTSD; with survivors suffering from higher levels of stress, but also a higher level of post-traumatic growth. Although they suffered extreme stress, survivors reported that after the war they were satisfied with their personal and professional lives.
Researchers are now investigating the influence of the Holocaust on children and grandchild survivors, and early results in surviving children show a reduced correlation between brain structures involved in emotional and memory processing. Further research has been set up to identify biomarkers of stress resistance and post-traumatic growth and determine whether transmission to offspring is based on behavioral and psychological factors or on genetic factors.
Commenting on the results of his research, Professor Ivan Rector, a neurologist from Brno, Czech Republic, explained: "After more than 70 years, the influence of survival of the Holocaust on brain function has been significant.We have found significant differences in the brain structures involved in the process of emotion, memory and social knowledge, at a higher level of stress but also post-traumatic growth between surviving Holocaust and control Early results show that this is the case for surviving children.
"We hope that these findings and our research will enable us to better understand the impact of these experiences in focusing on resilience and survival growth and their descendants. We can also discover strategies that survived the Holocaust to face traumas during their later lives and to convey your experiences to further generations, "Professor Rector added.
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About the expert:
Professor Ivan Rektor is the head of the research center at the Masaryk University Neuroscience Center.
EAN – Domain Neurology:
The European Academy of Neurology (EAN) is the home of European neurology. Established in 2014, by merging two European neurological societies, EAN represents the interests of more than 45,000 individual members and 47 national institutional members from across the continent. This year, EAN celebrates its fifth year of promoting excellence in European neurology and will bring together more than 6,000 neurologists and related scientists at the largest general neurological conference in Europe.
In Oslo, Norway, from June 29 to July 2, exchange of knowledge and promotion of best practice will be held, focusing on the main topic of neuroinflammation. The EAN Congress will also include all neurological disorders and disorders, including major epilepsy, stroke, headache, multiple sclerosis, dementia, motion disorders, and neuromuscular disorders.
1. Life-long effects of extreme stress on brain structures – an MRI study that has survived the Holocaust. M. Fnaskova, P. iha, I. Rector, presented at the 5th Congress of International Neurology in Oslo.
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