Change Your Mind: How Stress Reshapes Your Brain

The hippocampus in a human brain.

By Kelly Lohr

It has been known for a while that too much stress can be bad for your health.  A new study now shows that it can affect your brain too.  Research through a collaboration between Rockefeller University and Cornell University suggests that stress can been linked to harmful changes in some brain structures.  Sometimes these brain changes can be advantageous, such as making new synaptic connections to remember and learn from a stressful, life-threatening event.  However, some changes can  be detrimental.

A mouse hippocampus labeled with NeuroTrace® green fluorescent Nissl stain

The project has identified a protein possibly involved in remodeling the brain under stress.  It was found that the brains of mice lacking the protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) look like the brains of stressed mice.  The study examined changes in the neurons of the hippocampus, a brain area important in memory, mood, and cognition.  When normal mice were stressed through confinement to a small space, the tiny projections on their neurons called dendrites retracted in the hippocampus.  The hippocampus itself was also reduced in overall volume.  The study compared these mice to other mice that were missing a copy of the gene that produces BDNF.  It was found that these genetically-altered mice had brains resembling those of stressed mice.

Not only does this finding show that stress can produce brain changes.  Bruce McEwan of Rockefeller University suggested that BDNF also may be “one of the proteins that play a role in mediating the brain’s plasticity.” This holds promise for a better understanding of the role of neuronal remodeling in the hippocampus and its importance in memory and emotion.

Written April 13, 2010

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Kelly Lohr

Kelly is a senior neuroscience major from Norvelt, PA. She plans to pursue a graduate degree in neuroscience after graduation.

50 thoughts on “Change Your Mind: How Stress Reshapes Your Brain”

  1. This is a really interesting article because seeing information like this being discovered in studies helps to show how adaptive the human brain really is, and it could possibly open the doorways for more advanced future studies that could allow scientists to control the changes occurring in the brain.

  2. Very well-informed blog, Kelly.
    And yes, you’re right. A lot of people who are exerting too much of their brain power usually exhaust not only their physical strength when engaging in various multi-tasking activities, they also tend to over extend their brains up to the point when it plainly needs some good old time for relaxation. A lot of busy students who seem to indulge continual assignments and deadliness, cannot fathom the idea of relaxing and taking time of from study, as well as their worries, tend to actually start having nervous breakdowns, anxiety depression and all sorts of mental illnesses that can cause a person’s sanity to go haywire. fortunately, for those poor unfortunate ones who are unable to de-stress and are constantly worried and fussing over things, there are actually available cures and various treatments for treating anxiety depression. THIS should be a subject of study for those.

  3. Just forgot to add . . . . when it comes to effectively curing one’s self from a mental illness, one must keep in mind that you have to be actually honest with yourself and assess what kind of depression or mental illness you actually have, go to reputable medical practitioner, analyst or psychologist, to get yourself diagnosed correctly as well as be able to get the right depression treatment for yourself.

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  5. I strongly agree that stress can be bad for the health of the body let alone stress can aggravate our health condition so my advice so that we avoid stress then try to walk the road with the family

  6. Hi,
    Thanks for providing this useful information. This article will really help many pupils to overcome their stress.

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