Experts are still baffled by what caused the changes.

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Personnel from the U.S. embassy in Cuba reported unusual symptoms starting in 2016. Getty Images

New research reveals some answers and more questions in the saga of U.S. government workers who were subjected to an alleged “sonic attack” in Havana, Cuba.

During the latter part of 2016 through 2017, U.S. government personnel serving in Havana began reporting a constellation of neurological problems commonly associated with concussion or mild traumatic brain injury, including dizziness, nausea, and memory problems.

Symptoms were reported following exposure to what was described as a loud strange noise.

Now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have taken a further step in identifying what happened through the use of brain imaging.

In a new study published today in JAMA, researchers found structural changes in the brains of the diplomats who had served in Cuba compared with a similar control group.

“It was absolutely shocking,” said Ragini Verma, PhD, professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the JAMA study. “We’ve never seen in such a small population consistent differences, so ‘shocking’ is a good word.”

The participating group of U.S. personnel was quite small, only 40 patients.

Verma and her team used a battery of MRI techniques to hone in on a variety of demonstrable changes in the brain, such as differences in the volume of white matter. Despite their findings, none of what they found appeared to match other common patterns of injury, including most notably, concussion.

“The pattern of differences was not something that we see in other pathologies,” said Verma.

“The only hypothesis we had is that something should be wrong with the cerebellum and we saw imaging differences in the cerebellum. So that means that there is a clinical correlate with the symptoms they were showing,” she said.

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MRI scans revealed major changes to the area of brain called the cerebellum. Photo courtesy of the JAMA Network

The cerebellum is an area of the brain that controls things like coordination, balance, and equilibrium. So, finding differences in this region would seem to go hand in hand with many of the symptoms that the diplomats had previously reported.

Previous work by researchers at U. Penn published in 2018 involved 24 individuals with suspected exposure in Havana. They found persistent dysfunction in eye movement, coordination, and balance.

Nonetheless, the study still leaves many unanswered questions, and other experts have been skeptical in attributing symptoms to brain injury sustained from some kind of sonic weaponry.

Dr. Eu Meng Law, professor of radiology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California explained, “Even though it does suggest a reasonably definite abnormality in the brain, I guess even the authors would contend that these are very small numbers and preliminary findings.”

Skepticism of the “sonic attack” theory has also grown in the years since the alleged attacks took place.

According to NPR, some scientists who have researched the subject have grown weary after hearing theories change year after year from a sonic weapon, to microwaves or infection.

A study published in January 2019 even went so far as to claim that the loud, piercing noise suffered by diplomats in Havana could very well have just been… crickets.

The Indies short-tailed cricket, to be exact, whose mating call is known to pierce through the night at incredible volumes.

Brain injury sustained from sonic force is not outside the realm of possibility.

“A lot of work has been done looking at people who have served in war zones and come back and there are obviously injuries related directly to concussion impact but with loud blasts,” said Law.

But, without further investigation, Verma’s research will do little to quell the multitude of questions that still remain about what did or did not happen to U.S. personnel in Havana.

As she puts it: “The only thing that imaging can answer for you is did something happen? And the answer is yes. The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ is not something we can go after.”