Brain volumetric changes in the general population following the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown

Tom Salomon, Adi Cohen, Daniel Barazany, Gal Ben-Zvi, Rotem Botvinik-Nezer, Rani Gera, Shiran Oren, Dana Roll, Gal Rozic, Anastasia Saliy, Niv Tik, Galia Tsarfati, Ido Tavor, Tom Schonberg, Yaniv Assaf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak introduced unprecedented health-risks, as well as pressure on the economy, society, and psychological well-being due to the response to the outbreak. In a preregistered study, we hypothesized that the intense experience of the outbreak potentially induced stress-related brain modifications in the healthy population, not infected with the virus. We examined volumetric changes in 50 participants who underwent MRI scans before and after the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown in Israel. Their scans were compared with those of 50 control participants who were scanned twice prior to the pandemic. Following COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, the test group participants uniquely showed 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 induced transient volumetric changes in brain regions commonly associated with stress and anxiety. The current work utilizes a rare opportunity for real-life natural experiment, showing evidence for brain plasticity following the COVID-19 global pandemic. These findings have broad implications, relevant both for the scientific community as well as the general public.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118311
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2021


FundersFunder number
Fields-Rayant Minducate Learning Innovation Research Center
Ido TavorISF 1603/18
Nehemia Levtzion fellowship
Weizmann Institute of Science - Israel National Postdoctoral Award Program for Advancing Women in Science
Yaniv AssafISF 2004/15, ISF 1303/20, ISF 1314/15
Israel Science Foundation


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