Chronic Stress and Neurogenesis

It was a woman scientist, Elizabeth Gould, who discovered in 1989 that chronic stress is devastating to neurons -and most importantly, that the brain Could heal.  The scientific opinion of the day held that brain cells, unlike every other cell in our body, didn’t divide.  It was thought that once infancy was over, the brain was complete.

It wasn’t until 1998 (amazingly recent) that science finally recognized Gould’s research.  The brain, far from being fixed is in a constant state of cellular upheaval – it is constantly creating new neural pathways.  Gould had shown that the amount of neurogenesis is itself modulated by the environment and not just our genes.  High levels of stress can decrease the number of new cells and the hippocampus area, crucial for learning and memory, starts to shrink.  Yikes, that’s why I have started this blog…as my backup -offsite storage.

However, the scars of stress can be healed, adult brains can recover rapidly.  Scientists are discovering that anti-depressants work by stimulating neurogenesis.  They are effective not just because they elevate seratonin but because they increase a class of protein – trophic factors which make neurons grow.  Apparently there is a new class of anti-depressants being developed that target the neurogenesis pathway.  Very cool as long as the pharmaceutical companies don’t price it beyond the reach of the stressed-out population.

“Neurogenesis is cellular evidence that we evolved to never stop evolving.   In the constant turmoil of our cells-in the irrepressible plasticity of our brains-we find our freedom”  -Jonah Lerher

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~ by lamiak on January 15, 2011.

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