New understanding of ‘brain chemistry’ triggers stress

Neuroscientists at the University of Leicester have announced a breakthrough in the understanding of the ‘brain chemistry’ that triggers our response to highly stressful and traumatic events.

The discovery of a critical and previously unknown pathway in the brain that is linked to our response to stress is announced today in the journal Nature. The study offers new hope for targeted treatment, or even prevention of stress-related psychiatric disorders.

Typically 20% of the population experience some form of anxiety disorder at least once within their lives. The cumulative lifetime prevalence of all stress-related disorders is difficult to estimate but is probably higher than 30%.

Dr Robert Pawlak, from the University of Leicester who led the UK team, said: “Stress-related disorders affect a large percentage of the population and generate an enormous personal, social and economic impact. It was previously known that certain individuals are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of stress than others. Although the majority of us experience traumatic events, only some develop stress-associated psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder. The reasons for this were not clear.”

The study found that the emotional centre of the brain, known as the amygdala, reacts to stress by increasing the production of a protein called neurospin. This triggers a series of chemical events which in turn causes this emotional centre to increase its activity, which determines the stress response at a cellular level.

Further research is required in a clinical situation; however the discovery opens new possibilities for the prevention and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

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