Watch out: Your stress could change my brain

An Indian-origin doctor at the University of Calgary in Canada has led research that shows that stress could be infectious – that transmitted stress could impact the brain. The effects of stress, however, could be reversed – in female mice – through social interaction. No such reversal was observed in male mice.
The discovery was published in January in Nature Neuroscience by Jaideep Bains and his team at the Cumming School of Medicine’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), at the University of Calgary, Canada.
In a report of the discovery on website Science Daily, Bains is quoted as saying: “Brain changes associated with stress underpin many mental illnesses including PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), anxiety disorders and depression.” He explains that stress and emotions can be ‘contagious’ and whether this has lasting consequences for the brain is not known. 

The researchers studied the impact of stress on pairs of mice. “They removed one mouse from each pair and exposed it to a mild stress before returning it to its partner. They then examined the responses of a specific population of cells, specifically CRH (Corticotropin releasing hormone) neurons which control the brain’s response to stress, in each mouse, which revealed that networks in the brains of both the stressed mouse and naïve partner were altered in the same way,” Science Daily explained.

Toni-Lee Sterley, postdoctoral associate in Bains’ lab and lead author of the study, is quoted as explaining the remarkable finding was that CRH neurons from the partners, who were not themselves exposed to an actual stress, showed changes identical to those measured in the stressed mice.

The website explained that activation of CRH neurons causes the release of a chemical signal, an ‘alarm pheromone’, from the mouse that alerts the partner. The partner who detects the signal can in turn alert additional members of the group. “This propagation of stress signals reveals a key mechanism for transmission of information that may be critical in the formation of social networks in various species,” the website explains.

Another significant finding of the researchers was that female mice “destressed” through social interaction with other females – this was not true of male mice. Bains explains that the study shows that stress and social interaction are intricately linked. “We readily communicate our stress to others, sometimes without even knowing it. There is even evidence that some symptoms of stress can persist in the family and loved ones of individuals who suffer from PTSD. On the flip side, the ability to sense another’s emotional state is a key part of creating and building social bonds,” he told Science Daily.
Source-Times Of India


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