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Vulnerability to Stress Linked to Brain Molecule
Date:10/18/2007

Study with mice reveals heightened activity of neurotransmitter dopamine

THURSDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have identified molecular mechanisms in the brain that may explain why some people are less vulnerable to the stress caused by difficult situations.

While the research was done with mice, the findings could eventually lead to better treatments for chronic stress, depression and the post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by troops in Iraq and other battlefields, said study co-author Dr. Eric Nestler, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"One important lesson we have shown even in previous papers is that a series of genetically identical animals respond differently to chronic stress," Nestler said. "Thirty to 40 percent seemed to be resilient and did not develop bad symptoms. The clinical implications are that the ability to identify mechanisms of resistance can help provide new and novel approaches to stress."

The key lies in a pair of molecules used by some brain cells to communicate with one another, said Vaishnav Krishnan, lead author of the report and a student in a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center program that leads to simultaneous M.D. and Ph.D. degrees.

"Under stress, vulnerable mice increase the frequency of nerve activity using the neurotransmitter dopamine," Krishnan said. "That subsequently causes release of a nerve growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF]. Resilient mice overcome these changes by increasing the expression of molecules that prevent the release of dopamine."

A neurotransmitter is a molecule that sends signals from one nerve cell to another.

Mice in the experiments were so inbred that they were genetically identical. Then they were put under stress by being placed in the territory of larger, more aggressive mice. Some of the test mice adjusted well to t
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