MGH Study Finds Pandemic Lockdowns May Have Caused Brain Inflammation

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BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — New research from Massachusetts General Hospital shows the pandemic may have had an impact on people's brains.

The study, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, found that for some people the lockdowns and lifestyle disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic may have led to brain inflammation that can impact mental health. This inflammation could happen regardless of whether a person did or did not get sick with the virus.

Researchers sampled brain imaging data, behavioral tests, and blood samples from volunteers who had participated in other ongoing studies that had not been infected with COVID. Fifty-seven of the volunteers were sampled prior to the pandemic and 15 of them were after the pandemic began and lockdown measures were implemented.

The study found participants who reported more symptoms of mental and physical fatigue after lockdowns began were more likely to show signs of brain inflammation. The data also showed more markers of inflammation were found in those tested after lockdowns than those tested before.

Lead author and MGH research fellow Ludovica Brusaferri wrote this study is important because it shows how the pandemic affected those who never got sick with COVID.

“While COVID-19 research has seen an explosion in the literature, the impact of pandemic-related societal and lifestyle disruptions on brain health among the uninfected has remained under-explored,” Brusaferri wrote. “Our study demonstrates an example of how the pandemic has impacted human health beyond the effects directly caused by the virus itself.”

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Senior author Marco Loggia said the results of the study could provide support for the idea that stressful events cause brain inflammation, as well as highlight ways to treat symptoms of mental fatigue.

“This could have important implication for developing interventions for a broad number of stress-related disorders,” Loggia said in a statement. “For instance, behavioral or pharmacological interventions that are thought to reduce inflammation—such as exercise and certain medications—might turn out to be helpful as a means of reducing these vexing symptoms.”

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