Professor Inkyun Ryu's Research Team, Publishes a Research Paper in Nature Communications and Is Selected for the Editor
(from the left) Chair Professor Inkyun Ryu, Professor Soojung Yoon and Jungyoon Kim
A research team led by Inkyun Ryu, chair professor at the Institute of Brain Convergence Science, found that when a person with low-grade inflammation is stressed, he or she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other brain function declines. In particular, many of these phenomena are found to be important in job groups that are frequently exposed to stressful environments, including firefighters.
Chair professor Inkyun Ryu's research team discovered that if a person with a low-grade inflammation is exposed to stress, the brain's cognitive decline, such as judgment and memory decline, is evident compared to those who do not. If such a situation persists, the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress disorder can be significantly increased. The results of the study were published in Nature Communications, an authoritative journal in the field of science and technology, and in particular, it was selected as the best research by the editor of the journal in May, drawing attention from academia. The research team consists of Inkyun Ryu (corresponding author), a chair professor at the Institute of Brain Convergence Science, Jungyoon Kim and Soojung Yoon (co-authors), Sooji Lee, a post-doctoral researcher, Yoonji Joo from Pharmacy of Graduate School, and Eunji Ha and Hyejin Hong from Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, master's and doctoral program students.
According to the research team, a low-grade inflammation refers to a state of increased inflammatory materials in the blood even when there is no disease. It has been well known that such low-grade inflammation is associated with bodily diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, but the impact on brain and stress-associated diseases had not been clearly identified.
The research team conducted a study of 100 firefighters who are frequently exposed to stress and 700 people. It showed that people with low-grade inflammatory conditions that do not require treatment experience a decrease in the function of the neural network compared to other people. If the function of the neural network is reduced, higher cortical function such as judgment, memory, executive ability, language skills and functional connectivity of the brain will be reduced, becoming more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder.
In particular, the difference was more pronounced in the group of firefighters who were frequently exposed to occupational stress while on duty, such as fire control, rescue and emergency services. Firefighters with low-grade inflammation suffered more deterioration in the neural network than healthy firefighters, and the risk of PTSD increased significantly. In fact, the research team conducted a complete enumeration survey of fire-fighting officers in 2014 and found that 6.3 percent of them suffer from PTSD, a typical stress disorder, which is more than three times higher than the average person (1.9 percent).
Typical post-traumatic stress disorders include a tendency to repeat or avoid dreams or thoughts after being exposed to extreme stress, depression, and surprise. Examples include firefighters who watch the scene in their dreams more than a decade after recovering a colleague's dead body at the scene, firefighters who cannot sleep because of the guilt after saving only the mother at the scene of the fire and failing to save the children, and firefighters who feel that there is the smell of burning in their bodies after witnessing a burned dead body during fire suppression.
The results of the study show that maintaining healthy immune system usually not only helps maintain physical health, but also affects the enhancement of the function of neural networks responsible for higher cortical function such as judgment, memory, executive ability and language skills. It is also meaningful in that it has objectively proven through advanced brain science analysis that improved brain function can increase resistance to stress. In particular, it is significant because it suggests that blood inflammation levels can be measured in special occupational groups such as firefighters and police officers who are highly exposed to job stress, and in risk groups such as test takers and teenagers, and that they can be used for early intervention and treatment of stress-related diseases.
The research team said, "Many people do not recognize that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after exposure to stress or think it is not a big problem. In fact, it is important to detect it early and prevent in advance because it often leads to poorer quality of life and reduced work efficiency," and added, "It is important to maintain your brain healthy to have a healthy lifestyle that increases immunity as Covid-19 can lead to high levels of inflammation from stress and less physical activity."