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The leading edge of stress: New genomic, optogenetic and epigenetic findings

Washington Research released today uses the latest genetic tools to explore how stress alters brain function, leading to anxiety, depression, and other stress-related mood disorders. The research was presented at Neuroscience 2011, the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

Stress has many meanings; in neuroscience stress is generally defined as any kind of change that causes physical or psychological strain. Today's findings provide more clues as to how different kinds of stress alter genes and brain function clues that may explain behavior and mood changes in stress-related disorders.

Specifically, the research released today shows that:

  • Brain cells that produce serotonin may be critical for stress to affect mood and behavior. Researchers found that "silencing" serotonin cells blocked increased fear behaviors in stressed mice (Michael Baratta, PhD, abstract 719.07, see attached summary).

  • An extra copy of a single gene, general transcription factor II-I (GTF2I), is linked to separation anxiety in both mice and humans (Lucy Osborne, PhD, abstract 901.28, see attached summary).

  • The effects of prenatal stress can be passed across generations in male mice. The study suggests that epigenetics are to blame for disruptions in male brain development in mice that experienced prenatal stress and their offspring (Christopher Morgan, abstract 190.02, see attached summary).

Another recent finding discussed shows that:

  • Female mice with a modification in the serotonin transporter gene are particularly vulnerable to prenatal stress. This finding suggests that vulnerability to emotional disorders is determined by a complex interaction of genes and environment, including prenatal stress (Sissi Jakob, MSc, see attached speaker's summary).

"Specific types of stress are a serious risk factor for many psychiatric and physical illnesses, including quite common ones such as depression and heart disease," said Klaus A. Miczek, PhD, of Tufts University, press conference moderator and an expert on social stressors and the brain. "Understanding the underlying mechanisms of stress will help identify novel targets for treating these illnesses, thus improving the health and lives of millions of people."


Contact: Kat Snodgrass
Society for Neuroscience

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