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Medical News and Perspectives |

Researchers Seek New Ways to Counter the Harmful Toll of Stress on the Brain

M. J. Friedrich
JAMA. 2013;309(4):330-332. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.174455.
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A common, unavoidable fact of life, stress is often perceived as a negative. And yet a certain limited quantity of stress is actually beneficial: it can sharpen concentration, increase energy, and improve performance. Trouble arises when stress overstays its welcome, becoming a chronic condition that can impair the ability to think clearly and in some cases even contribute to the development of substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Researchers are exploring the molecular changes that occur in the brain during stress. What they are learning is leading to a better understanding of disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression and pointing to new treatments for these and other stress-related illnesses—topics that they discussed last fall at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

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Studies of molecular changes that occur in the brain during stress are leading to a better understanding of disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder and depression.

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Neurochemicals released during stress can compromise the prefontal cortex (PFC), the brain's control center, while strengthening neural networks in more primitive areas of the brain, such as the amygdala. As a result, stress can take the PFC off-line and allow expression of impulsive behavior that is usually kept under control.

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