Astrid Bjørnebekk

I am a senior researcher, and head of The Anabolic Androgenic Steroid Research Group, Oslo University Hospital. In my current research we investigate long-term consequences of anabolic steroid use on brain structure, behavior and cognition with neuroimaging, mental health screening and comprehensive neuropsychological assessment. We have carried out the first large-scale neuroimaging investigating of steroid users, and we have followed this sample longitudinally with comprehensive medical assessments. Anabolic steroid dependence is a particular focus of our research, where we try to uncover mechanisms to why some seem to be more vulnerable than others to the effects of anabolic steroids.

Anabolic androgenic steroids’ effect on the brain

Anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) provide muscle growth, however long-term use has been associated with a range of consequences. Of the least studied effects of AAS use is the potential consequences it may have on brain health. Using machine learning, and brain age prediction, we have estimated the biological brain age of our participants providing an indication to whether each individual’s brain-age is pathological for their chronological age. We trained a machine-learning algorithm to ‘learn’ what a brain of a certain age look like, based on brain scans of nearly 2,000 healthy males of different ages. Then, the brain age was predicted of each of the 130 AAS users, and 99 weight lifters who had not used AAS based upon features of their brains. AAS use was associated with higher brain age relative to actual age compared with weightlifting controls, associated with longer history of use. Findings could not be explained by other substance use, general cognitive abilities, or depression. Longitudinal analysis revealed no evidence of increased brain aging in the overall AAS group, but accelerated brain aging was seen with longer AAS exposure. Brain imaging findings from our studies will be presented and their link to behavioral and medical data.

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