Current Weather
The Spy FM

Brain Scientists Uncover New Links Between Stress And Depression

Filed by KOSU News in Health.
October 15, 2012

Even extreme stress doesn’t have to get you down.

That’s the message from brain scientists studying the relationship between stress and problems such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Researchers at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans presented studies showing how stress caused by everything from battlefield trauma to bullying can alter brain circuitry in ways that have long-term effects on mental health.

Current treatments for these problems often come up short. But the scientists say new insights about how stress affects the brain suggest several ways the process could be interrupted or reversed.

“That’s the holy grail and we’re moving in that direction,” says Dipesh Chaudhury of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Chaudhury says one way traumatic events appear to cause depression is by inhibiting the brain’s so-called reward system, which normally causes pleasurable feelings when we spend time with friends or eat a favorite food. Soldiers with PTSD and people with major depression often report that these things no longer give them pleasure.

Mice respond in a similar way to traumatic events, Chaudhury says. And his research shows that this response can be prevented by reducing the activity of certain brain cells involved in the reward system.

The trick now is to find a drug that produces the same effect in people, Chaudhury says.

Another way stress affects mental health is by releasing chemicals that impair the function of the prefrontal cortex, which is where higher level thought takes place, says Amy Arnsten, a neurobiologist at Yale. When that happens, she says, “We switch from being thoughtful creatures to being reactive creatures.”

That can lead to anxiety and PTSD, Arnsten says. But studies suggest at least two drugs seem to help the prefrontal cortex work better.

One of these is the blood pressure drug Prazosin, which has been used experimentally to treat both soldiers and civilians with PTSD. Another is a drug called guanfacine, which seems to help drug addicts who relapse under stress.

The anesthetic and anti-depressant drug ketamine also seems to help with PTSD, says Neil Fournier, a researcher at Yale University School of Medicine.

Studies in mice show that ketamine helps them forget fearful events, probably because it causes the formation of new nerve connections in the brain. And there is preliminary evidence that wounded soldiers who got ketamine to relieve pain were less likely to develop PTSD. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9PM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center