Long-term use of steroids may damage memory

Impact of steroid treatment on memory processes.


A new study has discovered that steroid use is connected with memory impairment.

The research from the University of Bristol, published in PNAS, indicates that there is a lot of room for developing medications that may be used to treat specific memory issues. 

The most frequently given anti-inflammatory medication for a variety of illnesses is glucocorticoids, also referred to as steroids. However, they often negatively affect mood, sleep, and memory, and many patients who use steroids experience cognitive decline and memory impairment. 

A multidisciplinary research team led by Dr. Becky Conway-Campbell from the University of Bristol aimed to investigate the influence of steroid treatment on memory processes to determine if the reported adverse effects were due to the steroid or the underlying medical condition.

The scientists used a mouse model to discover that even a relatively short course of prescribed steroids methylprednisolone for five days was associated with decreased memory function when completing a task that involved learning and memory.

According to an investigation of rat model brains, The medication considerably affected the hippocampus, a brain region critical for memory and learning, 

The functional activity of the hippocampus, as evaluated by electrophysiological recordings, was severely decreased in the methylprednisolone-treated mouse model, providing the first evidence of a root cause for memory loss.

The findings provide new perspectives on the influence of steroid treatment on memory functions in the absence of underlying medical disorders, highlighting the critical importance of matching a prescribed course of medical treatment to endogenous steroid production.

Dr. Matthew Birnie, Fellow at the University of California and first author, who carried out the gene expression aspect of the work during his Ph.D. at the University of Bristol, said: “People who are prescribed steroids often report memory deficits. However, it’s been difficult to disentangle if this is the result of the underlying medical cause or if it’s an adverse effect of the treatment itself.”

Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine at the University of Bristol’s Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience and Endocrinology (LINE), said, “We have shown how important it is to record the times in which you do any experiments.” 

Their memory model considers synaptic plasticity and how neurons communicate with one another. They found that synaptic potentiation in the hippocampus occurs only during the active period of the day and not during sleep.

He added, “Additionally, we have shown that long-term treatment of steroids can block its effectiveness at all times of day and could contribute to the brain fog experienced by many people on steroids.”

She concluded, “Our study’s findings may finally help to explain the molecular basis for memory deficits associated with steroid treatment and chronic stress conditions, as well as lead to the identification of drug treatments that could be adapted to treat these types of memory disorders.”

This research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council.

Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew T Birnie,Yvonne M Kershaw etal. Circadian regulation of hippocampal function is disrupted with corticosteroid treatment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2211996120


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