BACKGROUND Although several studies have shown that ultramarathon running causes severe physical and mental stress and harms organ systems, its effect on brain tissue remains unclear. The purpose of this study was to investigate the volumetric change of cortical and subcortical brain structures following 38.6-km and 119.8-km mountain races.
MATERIAL AND METHODS A total of 23 healthy male runners (age, 49.05±5.99 years) were classified as short-trail (ST; n=9) and ultra-trail (UT; n=14) endurance running. Pre- and post-test scanning of brain tissue was performed by using a 3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Pre- and post-race differences in cortical and subcortical volumes in the ST and UT groups were separately determined by Wilcoxon signed-rank test.
RESULTS Cortical gray matter (GM) and cerebral GM volume significantly increased after the race in both ST and UT groups, whereas the volume of the thalamus, caudate, pallidus, and hippocampus significantly increased only in the UT group. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and white-matter (WM) volumes did not change after endurance running and remained unaltered in both groups.
CONCLUSIONS Endurance running has a site-specific acute effect on cortical and subcortical structures and may attenuate GM volume decrease in older adult male athletes. The increased volume of subcortical structures might be a response of physical exercise and additional physical stress experienced by ultramarathon runners.