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Gatekeeper of brain steroid signals boosts emotional resilience to stress
Date:4/23/2012

PHILADELPHIA - A cellular protein called HDAC6, newly characterized as a gatekeeper of steroid biology in the brain, may provide a novel target for treating and preventing stress-linked disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Glucocorticoids are natural steroids secreted by the body during stress. A small amount of these hormones helps with normal brain function, but their excess is a precipitating factor for stress-related disorders.

Glucocorticoids exert their effects on mood by acting on receptors in the nucleus of emotionregulating neurons, such as those producing the neurotransmitter serotonin. For years, researchers have searched for ways to prevent deleterious effects of stress by blocking glucocorticoids in neurons. However, this has proved difficult to do without simultaneously interfering with other functions of these hormones, such as the regulation of immune function and energy metabolism.

In a recent Journal of Neuroscience paper, the lab of Olivier Berton, PhD, assistant professor of Psychiatry, shows how a regulator of glucocorticoid receptors may provide a path towards resilience to stress by modulating glucocorticoid signaling in the brain. The protein HDAC6, which is particularly enriched in serotonin pathways, as well as in other mood-regulatory regions in both mice and humans, is ideally distributed in the brain to mediate the effect of glucocorticoids on mood and emotions. HDAC6 likely does this by controlling the interactions between glucocorticoid receptors and hormones in these serotonin circuits.

Experiments that first alerted Berton and colleagues to a peculiar role of HDAC6 in stress adaptation came from an approach that reproduces certain clinical features of traumatic stress and depression in mice. The animals are exposed to brief bouts of aggression from trained
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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