Stress puts brain on alert

We know that the brain is responsible for your response to stress. We also know that once you’re exposed to stress, you’re primed to respond more robustly to other stresses. What’s particularly vexing is trying to understand how the brain does this.

In a paper, published in Nature Neuroscience in 2010, we identified one mechanism at glutamate synapses that may contribute to stress-induced priming in the area of the brain that contains the stress command neurons. Such a mechanism may ensure that cells are on “standby” for any new stresses. Interestingly, the priming we have described persists for about a week.

Understanding stress at the level of the stress command neurons in the hypothalamus cells is vital, because these cells are the first step of a complex chain reaction. Currently, there are very few treatments for stress, and many of the ones currently available target symptoms often associated with stress – depression, fatigue, and memory loss.