A longitudinal, randomized experimental pilot study to investigate the effects of airborne infrasound on human mental health, cognition, and brain structure


Airborne infrasound (IS; emitted by e.g., large machinery, wind farms) is ubiquitous in technologized environments. Health hazards are controversially discussed at present. This study investigated long-term effects of IS on brain (regional grey matter volume; rGMV) and behavior in humans. Specifically engineered infrasonic (6 Hz, 80–90 dB) vs. sham devices were installed in participants’ (N = 38) bedrooms and active for 28 nights. Somatic and psychiatric symptoms, sound-sensitivity, sleep quality, cognitive performance, and structural MRI were assessed pre-post. Null findings emerged for all behavioral variables. Exploratory analyses revealed a trend (p =.083) with individuals exposed to IS reporting more physical weakness at post-test (d = 0.38). Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) revealed no rGMV increases, but there were decreases within clusters in the cerebellum VIIIa (bilateral) and left angular gyrus (BA39) in verum. In conclusion, IS does not affect healthy individuals on a global scale. However, future trials should consider more fine-grained specific effects, combining self-report with physiological assessments, particularly directed at bodily sensations and perception. As no brain-behavior-links could be established, the identified grey matter decline cannot be interpreted in terms of potential harmfulness vs. improvement through IS-exposure. Parameters that may best reflect brain changes as established in the present study include motor function, sensory processing/ bodily- and motor-perceptions, working memory, and higher auditory processing (i.e., language-related tasks), which are hence potential target variables for further research.

Bibliografische Daten

StatusVeröffentlicht - 04.02.2021

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Funding Information:
We would like to thank Lawrence Murphy, Aman Randawa, and Cindy Jagorska for their relentless dedication to making this study work and Sascha Fabian for technical assistance in manufacturing the sources. This project has received funding from the EMPIR programme co-financed by the Participating States and from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Trial registration: The trial was registered at NIH https://www.clinicaltrials.gov, trial identifier: NCT03459183, trial name: SonicBrain01, full trial protocol available here: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03459183.

Funding Information:
Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.. We would like to acknowledge that the study was performed as part of the EARS-II project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon2020 innovation fund and EURAMET (grant no. 15HLT03). The funder did not play any role in the study design and hypotheses, conducting/implementation of the study, or data analysis/ interpretation of results.

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© 2021, The Author(s).

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