A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol has found that long-term steroid use could result in memory impairment.
Most commonly known as “steroids,” glucocorticoids are anti-inflammatory drugs frequently prescribed for a wide range of conditions– such as asthma, allergies, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
But, the drugs are not without side effects, often causing adverse impacts on mood and sleep. Additionally, numerous patients have reported experiencing memory impairment and cognitive decline after being prescribed steroids.
“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,” said Dr. Matthew Birnie, the study’s first author.
That’s why Dr. Becky Conway-Campbell, the study’s leader, and her multidisciplinary team of researchers set out to study the effects of steroid treatments on memory processing. They hoped to determine whether the adverse effects were caused by steroid use or rooted in underlying medical conditions.
To do this, the team utilized a rodent model and discovered that even short-term use of prescribed steroids– such as a five-day course of methylprednisolone– resulted in memory performance impairment when completing a learning and memory-related task.
The rodent model brain analysis revealed that the hippocampus– or a critical brain region for learning and memory– was significantly impacted by steroid treatment.
In fact, using electrophysical recordings, the researchers discovered that hippocampus function activity in the rodent model was drastically impaired after being treated with methylprednisolone.
“Our findings provide breakthrough insights into the impact steroid treatment has on memory processes in the absence of underlying medical conditions,” explained Dr. Birnie.