Dubbed the health epidemic of the 21st century, scientists are looking to the human brain to combat the negative effects of stress.
Since everyone deals with stress differently, they want to understand how some individuals are more resilient to stress than others.
So far, neuroscientists at University College Cork have identified a mechanism that promotes this resilience.
They say certain receptors in the brain play an important role in determining how we respond to stressful situations.
Prof John Cryan and Dr Olivia O’Leary, together with their PhD student Daniela Felice and their colleagues, have shown that different subtypes of a given receptor can confer vulnerability to stress both in early-life and in adulthood.
They found mice lacking one subtype were resilient to stress, while mice lacking another subtype were more susceptible to it.
They also found the absence of certain receptors affects how stress impacts the birth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in cognition and emotion.
Increased production of new brain cells in the hippocampus is also thought to contribute to the effectiveness of antidepressants.
Since severe or chronic stress can increase susceptibility to psychiatric problems, the authors hope this study can point the way to developing new drugs to combat disorders such as depression.
Dr O’Leary said: “Although it is early days, these data show these receptors could be important targets for the development of new drugs in the treatment of depression, where there is still such an unmet medical need.”
Prof Cryan admitted they had “some way to go” to translate the finding into humans, but are “very excited” by the data.
He said: “Understanding the molecular factors that enable the brain to be stress resilient is one of the most exciting areas in neuroscience research”.
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