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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Sep;38(9):1874-82. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.06.012. Epub 2013 Jul 8.

Modulatory mechanisms of cortisol effects on emotional learning and memory: novel perspectives.

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Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


It has long been known that cortisol affects learning and memory processes. Despite a wealth of research dedicated to cortisol effects on learning and memory, the strength or even directionality of the effects often vary. A number of the factors that alter cortisol's effects on learning and memory are well-known. For instance, effects of cortisol can be modulated by emotional arousal and the memory phase under study. Despite great advances in understanding factors that explain variability in cortisol's effects, additional modulators of cortisol effects on memory exist that are less widely acknowledged in current basic experimental research. The goal of the current review is to disseminate knowledge regarding less well-known modulators of cortisol effects on learning and memory. Since several models for the etiology of anxiety, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), incorporate stress and the concomitant release of cortisol as important vulnerability factors, enhanced understanding of mechanisms by which cortisol exerts beneficial as opposed to detrimental effects on memory is very important. Further elucidation of the factors that modulate (or alter) cortisol's effects on memory will allow reconciliation of seemingly inconsistent findings in the basic and clinical literatures. The present review is based on a symposium as part of the 42nd International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology Conference, New York, USA, that highlighted some of those modulators and their underlying mechanisms.


Consolidation; Cortisol; Encoding; Memory; Modulators; PTSD; Stress

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