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Chronic 'jet lag' produces temporal lobe atrophy and spatial cognitive deficits


Time-zone travelers encounter a pattern of light and darkness, and their endogenous circadian rhythms adapt to the new external time cue until both timing systems synchronize1, but the long-term repeated disturbance of synchronization between the two timing systems impairs physiological and psychological health and induces stress2. Salivary cortisol levels in cabin crew after repeated exposure to jet lag were significantly higher than after short distance flights3, and the higher cortisol levels were associated with cognitive deficits that were dependent on non-semantic stimuli3. The present study demonstrates that significant prolonged cortisol elevations produce reduced temporal lobe volume and deficits in spatial learning and memory; these cognitive deficits became apparent after five years of exposure to high cortisol levels.

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Figure 1: A series of four coronal MRI slices.
Figure 2: Two flight attendant groups were compared to assess the volume of the temporal lobe and visual spatial cognitive performance.

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Supported by the Royal Society. I thank M.W. Brown, C.H. Suh, M.K. Lim and S. Fitzjohn for their help with statistics and MRI analysis.

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Correspondence to Kwangwook Cho.

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Cho, K. Chronic 'jet lag' produces temporal lobe atrophy and spatial cognitive deficits. Nat Neurosci 4, 567–568 (2001).

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