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Stress may cause the brain to become disconnected
Date:3/16/2009

Initial data by investigators, such as Robert Sapolsky at Stanford University, suggested that stress might promote the death of neurons, suggesting that the volume reductions in patients with PTSD might reflect the loss of nerve cells. More recent research by Bruce McEwen and colleagues at Rockefeller University indicates that stress can cause neurons to shrink or retract their connections. This could be critically important to the ability of these neurons to work together in highly inter-connected networks. But what is the link between this type of "neural remodeling" and the behavioral changes that follow extreme stress exposure?

The new paper by Hajszan and colleagues at Yale University suggests that in learned helplessness, an animal model for depression and PTSD, stress-related reductions in synapses in the hippocampus are directly related to the emergence of depression-like behavior. These data help to make the case that stress-related changes in the structure of nerve cells may have important behavioral consequences, explains Dr. Hajszan. "The importance of our findings is derived from the well-known fact that synapses have a great potential for rapid changes, which may underlie sudden mood swings. More importantly, it is feasible to restore hippocampal synapses in a very short period of time (hours or even minutes), which opens up exciting new avenues for developing rapid-acting antidepressants that may provide immediate relief from depressive symptoms."

It cannot yet be said that reductions in cortical volumes in patients with PTSD reflect reductions in the number of synapses. However, these findings underscore the potential importance of studying post-mortem human tissue to determine whether humans also show this pattern of neural changes. Dr. Krystal notes that "settling this issue could help us to better understand recent epidemiologic data suggesting that most of the adjustment problems of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghani
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Contact: Jayne Dawkins
ja.dawkins@elsevier.com
215-239-3674
Elsevier
Source:Eurekalert

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