October 9, 2011
Science Daily/University of Leicester
Neuroscientists investigating the 'brain code' claim to have made a significant step forwards in understanding how the brain deals with stress- and mitigates its impact.
Examining what they term 'thin' and 'mushroom-like' parts of nerve cells in the brain, which are responsible for learning and remembering, they discovered that it is possible to alter what is remembered -- thereby mitigating the stress of painful memories.
A team from the University of Leicester has identified a particular protein that the brain produces in response to stress. Tests on mice revealed that those without this protein were less 'outgoing' and preferred to 'hide in the dark'.
"We have identified a protein that the brain produces in response to stress in order to reduce the number of mushroom spines and therefore reduce future anxiety associated with stressful events. This protein, lipocalin-2, is normally not produced, but its fabrication dramatically increases in response to stress in the hippocampus. When we added lipocalin-2 to neurons in culture the way it occurs on stress, neurons started losing their "memory spines" -- the mature, mushroom-shaped ones.
"Thus, the brain produces lipocalin-2 in order to protect us from "too much anxiety" and help us cope with various adverse life events. "Identification of lipocalin-2 as a new player the brain uses to help us cope with stress is an important step forward. We are getting closer to deciphering molecular mechanisms of stress that, if not functioning properly, may lead to stress-related psychiatric diseases."
"Stress-related psychological and mental disturbances are extremely common and affect more than 30% of the population. We are keen to investigate whether the mechanisms discovered by us apply to humans and could help inform clinical strategies to deal with anxiety disorders and depression."