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Crit Rev Toxicol. 2008;38(7):633-9. doi: 10.1080/10408440802026406.

Awareness of hormesis will enhance future research in basic and applied neuroscience.

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Laboratory of Neurosciences, National Institute on Aging Intramural Research Program, Baltimore, Maryland 21224, USA.


Hormesis is defined operationally as responses of cells or organisms to an exogenous or intrinsic factor (chemical, temperature, psychological challenge, etc.) in which the factor induces stimulatory or beneficial effects at low doses and inhibitory or adverse effects at high doses. The compendium of articles by Calabrese entitled "Neuroscience and Hormesis" provides a broad range of examples of neurobiological processes and responses to environmental factors that exhibit biphasic dose responses, the signature of hormesis. Nerve cell networks are the "first responders" to environmental challenges--they perceive the challenge and orchestrate coordinated adaptive responses that typically involve autonomic, neuroendocrine, and behavioral changes. In addition to direct adaptive responses of neurons to environmental stressors, cells subjected to a stressor produce and release molecules such as growth factors, cytokines, and hormones that alert adjacent and even distant cells to impending danger. The discoveries that some molecules (e.g., carbon monoxide and nitric oxide) and elements (e.g., selenium and iron) that are toxic at high doses play fundamental roles in cellular signaling or metabolism suggest that during evolution, organisms (and their nervous systems) co-opted environmental toxins and used them to their advantage. Neurons also respond adaptively to everyday stressors, including physical exercise, cognitive challenges, and dietary energy restriction, each of which activates pathways linked to the production of neurotrophic factors and cellular stress resistance proteins. The development of interventions that activate hormetic signaling pathways in neurons is a promising new approach for the preventation and treatment of a range of neurological disorders.

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