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Front Neuroendocrinol. 2007 Aug-Sep;28(2-3):72-96. Epub 2007 May 1.

Chronic stress: implications for neuronal morphology, function and neurogenesis.

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  • 1SILS-CNS, University of Amsterdam, Kruislaan 320, 1098 SM Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


In normal life, organisms are repeatedly exposed to brief periods of stress, most of which can be controlled and adequately dealt with. The presently available data indicate that such brief periods of stress have little influence on the shape of neurons or adult neurogenesis, yet change the physiological function of cells in two time-domains. Shortly after stress excitability in limbic areas is rapidly enhanced, but also in brainstem neurons which produce catecholamines; collectively, during this phase the stress hormones promote focused attention, alertness, vigilance and the initial steps in encoding of information linked to the event. Later on, when the hormone concentrations are back to their pre-stress level, gene-mediated actions by corticosteroids reverse and normalize the enhanced excitability, an adaptive response meant to curtail defense reactions against stressors and to enable further storage of relevant information. When stress is experienced repetitively in an uncontrollable and unpredictable manner, a cascade of processes in brain is started which eventually leads to profound, region-specific alterations in dendrite and spine morphology, to suppression of adult neurogenesis and to inappropriate functional responses to a brief stress exposure including a sensitized activation phase and inadequate normalization of brain activity. Although various compounds can effectively prevent these cellular changes by chronic stress, the exact mechanism by which the effects are accomplished is poorly understood. One of the challenges for future research is to link the cellular changes seen in animal models for chronic stress to behavioral effects and to understand the risks they can impose on humans for the precipitation of stress-related disorders.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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