Nav: Home

Keeping up the pressure

April 09, 2017

In addition to the classic stress response in our bodies - an acute reaction that gradually abates when the threat passes - our bodies appear to have a separate mechanism that deals only with chronic stress. These Weizmann Institute of Science findings, which recently appeared in Nature Neuroscience, may lead to better diagnosis of and treatment for anxiety and depression.

Dr. Assaf Ramot, a postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Alon Chen's group in the Weizmann Institute's Neurobiology Department, led the research pinpointing a small, previously unknown group of nerve cells in the paraventricular nucleus, or PVN, within the hypothalamus - a part of the brain involved in regulating many of the body's reactions. These cells' position in the PVN led the researchers to suppose that the nerve cells play a role in the stress response.

Chen explains that in the well-known stress response, the neurotransmitter CRF is released from the PVN and goes to the pituitary. The pituitary releases hormones that then cause the adrenal gland to flood the bloodstream with the "stress hormone" cortisol. Cortisol, along with the regular stress response, lowers the production of CRF, thus causing a negative feedback loop in which the mechanism slows down and stops.

The newly-discovered nerve cells express a receptor, CRFR1, on their outer walls, which enables them to take in the message of the CRF neurotransmitter. The experiments showed that in mice the cortisol actually increases the number of CRFR1 receptors on these nerve cells, suggesting a positive feedback loop that could be self-renewing, rather than abating.

Working with Prof. Nicholas Justice's group at the University of Texas, Houston, Chen, Ramot and their group first characterized this special population of nerve cells, labeling them with fluorescent proteins in the brains of genetically engineered mice. When they removed the adrenal glands of these mice, and thus prevented the production of cortisol, the receptors did not appear on the PVN nerve cell walls, while injecting synthetic stress hormones caused them to appear and restart the chain reaction.

Next, the researchers asked when and how the CRFR1 cycle is initiated. They compared mice genetically engineered to lack the receptor with a control group and exposed them to different kinds of stress, testing the hormones in their blood afterward. When the mice experienced acute stress, both groups reacted in a similar manner, and their hormone levels were also similar. But chronic stressors told a different story: The genetically engineered mice stayed calmer and had lower levels of the cortisol-like hormone.

"In other words," says Ramot, "the CRFR1 system is a separate one that evolved to deal with chronic stress." Chen adds: "Some studies have shown that patients suffering from depression have more of this receptor than average, and this suggests further avenues of research and even ways to treat, in the future, disorders that arise from chronic stress."
-end-
Prof. Alon Chen's research is supported by the Carl and Micaela Einhorn-Dominic Center for Brain Research, which he heads; the Nella and Leon Benoziyo Center for Neurosciences, which he heads; the Norman and Helen Asher Center for Brain Imaging, which he heads; the Henry Chanoch Krenter Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Genomics; the Perlman Family Foundation, Founded by Louis L. and Anita M. Perlman; the Irving Bieber, M.D. and Toby Bieber, M.D. Memorial Research Fund; the Adelis Foundation; the Appleton Family Trust; Mr. and Mrs. Bruno Licht, Brazi; and the Ruhman Family Laboratory for Research in the Neurobiology of Stress.

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the Institute is home to scientists, students, technicians and supporting staff. Institute research efforts include the search for new ways of fighting disease and hunger, examining leading questions in mathematics and computer science, probing the physics of matter and the universe, creating novel materials and developing new strategies for protecting the environment.

Weizmann Institute of Science

Related Stress Articles:

Red light for stress
Researchers from the Institute of Industrial Science at The University of Tokyo have created a biphasic luminescent material that changes color when exposed to mechanical stress.
How do our cells respond to stress?
Molecular biologists reverse-engineer a complex cellular structure that is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS
How stress remodels the brain
Stress restructures the brain by halting the production of crucial ion channel proteins, according to research in mice recently published in JNeurosci.
Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.
How plants handle stress
Plants get stressed too. Drought or too much salt disrupt their physiology.
Stress in the powerhouse of the cell
University of Freiburg researchers discover a new principle -- how cells protect themselves from mitochondrial defects.
Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.
Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.
Maternal stress at conception linked to children's stress response at age 11
A new study published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease finds that mothers' stress levels at the moment they conceive their children are linked to the way children respond to life challenges at age 11.
A new way to see stress -- using supercomputers
Supercomputer simulations show that at the atomic level, material stress doesn't behave symmetrically.
More Stress News and Stress Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.