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Experience sculpts brain circuitry to build resiliency to stress

ntrollable stress develop a syndrome similar to depression (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/healthinformation/depressionmenu.cfm) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/healthinformation/ptsdmenu.cfm) in which they lose the ability to learn how to escape stressors and behave more fearfully.

Maier's research team had last year reported that the prefrontal cortex (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/press/ratstress.cfm) quelled the brainstem center's alarmist tendencies. The current study sought to pinpoint how and when the cortex influenced the alarm center to produce the stress immunity.

The researchers chemically inactivated the cortex at critical stages of experiencing and reacting to controllable and uncontrollable stress while measuring neurotransmitter activity and gene expression in cells of the alarm center via chemical monitoring and brain mapping techniques. Increased secretion of serotonin (a mood regulating chemical) and gene expression in the alarm center, as well as the depression-like behavioral changes, no longer occurred following an uncontrollable stressor, if a controllable stressor had been experienced as much as a week earlier.

When the prefrontal cortex was experimentally turned off during the controllable stressor, the animal failed to develop such immunity. Similarly, turning the cortex area off prior to the uncontrollable stress also abolished the usually protective effect of a prior controllable stress experience. Thus, the prefrontal cortex was required both at the time of the initial control experience and then later at the time of challenge for protection to occur.

"Perceived control, or coping, can buffer individuals against the negative emotional and physiological impact of stress," said
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Contact: Jules Asher
NIMHpress@nih.gov
301-443-4536
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health
21-Dec-2006


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