New Research Finds that Trauma Can Physically Change One’s Brain

New Research Finds that Trauma Can Physically Change One’s Brain
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According to new research, it appears that whenever someone goes through trauma, actual brain salience network changes take place.

Researchers are just now learning more about how traumatic events can change one’s entire life and more interestingly, even change the brain in a physical manner!

What makes this event so intriguing is that these physical changes do not happen as a result of a physical injury.

In reality, after going through certain traumatic experiences, the brain simply rewires itself.

With that being said, the ZVR Lab from the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, led by assistant professor Benjamin Suarez-Jimenez, currently focuses on learning more about the mechanisms that cause such changes as well as the way the brain learns to predict threats and about safety.

Suarez-Jimenez explains that “We are learning a lot more about how those exposed to trauma learn to distinguish between what’s safe and what isn’t. Their brain is offering us insight into what might be going awry in some specific mechanisms impacted by trauma exposure, especially when emotion’s involved.”

The research results were published in Communications Biology not too long ago and show that salience network changes happen in those exposed to trauma.

It needs to be mentioned that this is usually a mechanism the brain uses for survival and learning.

The trauma that has the power to physically rewire the brain includes anxiety, depression and PTSD.

As part of the new research, fMRI was used to record the brain activity of the participants as they observed circles of different sizes, only one of which was linked to a small threat.

In addition to the salience network changes, the researchers also noticed a separate difference within the resilient group exposed to trauma.

What they learned was that the brains of those experiencing trauma without psychopathologies compensated to brain process changes by engaging one of the dominant brain networks – the executive control network.

Suarez-Jimenez explains that “Knowing what to look for in one’s brain when somebody is exposed to trauma could advance treatments significantly. In this case, we know where a change happens in the brain and how people can work around that change. It’s a marker of resilience.”

The scientists also found less signaling between the amygdala and default mode network, both of which seem to reflect PTSD patients’ inability to notice the differences between the circles shown.

“This tells us that patients diagnosed with PTSD have problems discriminating only when there’s an emotional component. We need to confirm if this is true for some other emotions such as sadness, disgust and happiness. So, it may be that in the real world, emotions overload their cognitive abilities to discriminate between safety, danger, or reward. It overgeneralizes towards danger,” Suarez-Jimenez mentions.

These brain mechanisms will continue to be a focus for Suarez-Jimenez and the rest of the team in order to learn more about it.

The current and future findings have the potential to advance the development of new, efficient treatments for all kinds of trauma.


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Katherine Baldwin

Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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