The COVID-19 outbreak introduced unprecedented health-risks, as well as pressure on the financial, social, and psychological well-being due to the response to the outbreak. Here, we examined the manifestations of the COVID-19 outbreak on the brain structure in the healthy population, following the initial phase of the pandemic in Israel. We pre-registered our hypothesis that the intense experience of the outbreak potentially induced stress-related brain modifications. Volumetric changes in n = 50 participants scanned before and after the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, were compared with n = 50 control participants that were scanned twice prior to the pandemic. The pandemic provided a rare opportunity to examine brain plasticity in a natural experiment. We found volumetric increases in bilateral amygdalae, putamen, and the anterior temporal cortices. Changes in the amygdalae diminished as time elapsed from lockdown relief, suggesting that the intense experience associated with the pandemic outbreak induced volumetric changes in brain regions commonly associated with stress and anxiety.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience