The flu alters brain functions even after a long time after the infection has been treated, according to the scientists at the Technical University (TU) of Braunschweig. Evidence of this can be found in a study conducted on lab mice at the TU which has been published in the journal Neuroscience.
The flu is negatively impacting on learning and memory abilities
“It is well-known that the brain reacts to infections, but so far nobody has investigated what happens afterward,” admitted professor Martin Korte, one of the study’s authors.
To find out more about possible long-term consequences for the brain, a research team led by Dr. Kristin Michaelsen-Preusse and dr. Shirin Hosseini studied the learning and memory capacity and brain structures of lab mice after they’ve been infected with influenza type A strains.
The study, which has been conducted under strict safety and animal welfare conditions, was financed by the state of Lower Saxony, the Volkswagen Foundation, the German Research Foundation, and the Helmholtz Association.
The scientists tested 180 lab mice, focusing on the rodents brain’s hippocampus, which is the brain region responsible for learning processes and memory.
The tested lab mice showed limitations in learning and memory tasks as well as structural changes at the nerve cells level in the brain.
Only 4 months later the flu-related brain alteration was gone
The researchers discovered that only after 4 months no changes were measurable. Extrapolated to the life expectancy of a person, the recovery process would take several years, according to the scientist.
The H1N1 virus (Spanish flu), not a brain-friendly flu subtype on the short-run, had no long-term consequences on the brain.
However, the strain H3N2 (Hong Kong flu strain and the one which is now affecting the US population) had after-effects on the brain, even though it is not active in the brain at all during infection.
In conclusion, the study’s author depicted that flu type A H3N2 is the most dangerous in the long-run as this type of flu alters the brain functions, especially the learning and memory processes.