Your Brain on Stress: New Shtuff!

How to Beat Depression

Knowledge is always, always, always power. In our case, the more we know about how the brain works, the more hope abounds. Here’s some new research on stress.

A looong time ago, I posted an article on a wondrous interplay of anatomy and physiology known as the HPA axis (that would be hypothalamus/pituitary gland/adrenal glands).

If you want to understand how your body responds to stress (including your “fight/flight” response), learning about the HPA axis will get you there. And being even somewhat comfortable with the HPA axis will help you get the most from this post.

Read Up! Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: The HPA Axis

News flash: As research ensues, so does understanding. And so it is with how stress impacts the brain.

Just published in the journal Neuron, researchers have uncovered evidence for a new stress adaptation mechanism. The study was conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel), the lead author is Dr. Gil Levkowitz.

This research is worth writing/reading about because?

Chronic stress can generate,  or exacerbate, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. So work such as this paves the road to relief and cures.

As you’ll read in the HPA axis piece (hint, hint), our response to stress begins with the secretion of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). The manufacturing facility is the brain’s hypothalamus.

So CRH is the spark when it comes to stress response.

That said, in the mist of a stressful situation, running out of CRH isn’t a good thing. So when the supply gets low, orders are automatically issued to ramp-up production.

Yes, there’s a built-in regulation system.

Thing is, when a glitch allows an unregulated flow of CRH, the door swings wide-open to all sorts of problems – including the generation of mood and anxiety disorders.

Hmmm, so if we knew a way to identify these glitches and ultimately fix ’em, the door would close firmly – putting an end to potential problems. Right?

Well, the research team turned to mouse and zebrafish model systems, and found a unique signaling pathway that, indeed, regulates the production of CRH.

Seems it’s all about the protein Orthopedia (Otp). Makes sense that it’s expressed in the portions of the brain associated with stress adaptation. Key point: it’s absolutely required for stress adaptation.

But there’s more. The study team discovered that Otp regulates two different receptors on the surface of neurons. And they function as on/off switches, receiving and relaying CRH production instructions.

According to Levkowitz…

This regulation of the CRH gene is critical for neuronal adaptation to stress. Failure to activate or terminate the CRH response can lead to chronic over-or under-activation of stress-related brain circuits, leading to pathological conditions. Taken together, our findings identify an evolutionarily conserved biochemical pathway that modulates adaptation to stress.

Think for a moment about the implications of the research. Granted, the team wasn’t working with humans. Still, they discovered the very workings that regulate the hormone that sparks the stress response system.

Given an over/under active stress response system can generate, and exacerbate, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder – developing ways to regulate it holds the potential to erase – repeat, erase – the scourge of the mood and anxiety disorders.

chipur aims to bring you the latest in scientific developments that are in any way related to depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Okay, much of the information may not be ready for immediate practical application. But the constant digging of researchers will one day lead to pay dirt.

And you know what? We can learn tons of interesting and important things along the way. That’s always a very good thing.

More on the biology of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder? All you have to do is tap here!