APR 26, 2021 4:58 AM PDT

Brain Circuit Activity Can Predict Who Handles Stress Better

WRITTEN BY: Alexandria Bass

People often complain of stress in their daily lives, but what makes one person swear and fume at the beginning of a busy work week while another can handle the same demands with composure? Scientists at The University of Zurich may have found the answer: the amount of activity in the brain system known as the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system.


The locus coeruleus is a nucleus within the pons of the brainstem that produces norepinephrine, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for the fight-or-flight stress response. The locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system includes the LC structure and all of its nerve projections within the central nervous system. The LC-NE system includes pathways to the amygdala, the well-known brain structure involved in subconscious fear formation. When encountering a stressor, the LC-NE influences the autonomic nervous system that controls involuntary physiological responses to help a person physically adapt to stress. 


Past studies have found increased LC-NE activity in patients diagnosed with anxiety, depression, PTSD, obesity, and anorexia nervosa, and increased activity is associated with an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.


Unlike former brain studies looking at LC-NE activity after a person had already undergone exposure to severe stressors, this new study from The University of Zurich examined brain activity with an fMRI before and after real-life stressors in medical students at their first 6-month internship to see if observations in brain regions during mild laboratory-based stress could predict who could handle stress the best and who would be most likely to develop anxiety and depression after facing sustained real-life stress.


Findings showed hyperresponsiveness of the LC-NE system at baseline was associated with more anxious and depressed behaviors after prolonged stress. Furthermore, activity in the LC-NE system was found to correlate with pupil dilation, meaning measurements of pupil dilation could be an indirect measure of LC-NE responsivity. The more pupils dilate, the more sensitive the LC-NE system, the more anxious the person perhaps.


With these findings, researchers hope to predict who is most at risk for developing mental disorders so earlier intervention can be provided. 


Sources: Science Daily, Nature Communications
 

About the Author
  • Alexandria (Alex) is a freelance science writer with a passion for educating the public on health issues. Her other professional experience includes working as a speech-language pathologist in health care, a research assistant in a food science laboratory, and an English teaching assistant in Spain. In her spare time, Alex enjoys cycling, lap swimming, jogging, and reading.
You May Also Like
NOV 16, 2021
Health & Medicine
Psilocybin and Cannabis to Treat Anxiety and Addiction
NOV 16, 2021
Psilocybin and Cannabis to Treat Anxiety and Addiction
Johns Hopkins University Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research just received a $4.9 million grant to study h ...
NOV 24, 2021
Cardiology
Stressed Mitochondria From Fat Cells Are a Warning to the Heart
NOV 24, 2021
Stressed Mitochondria From Fat Cells Are a Warning to the Heart
While obesity is closely linked to cardiovascular disease, that connection is murky. Some people who are considered obes ...
NOV 28, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Climate Migrants and Social Justice
NOV 28, 2021
Climate Migrants and Social Justice
Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. The pressure is most on developed countries to do something about ...
NOV 29, 2021
Health & Medicine
What is the Value of MRI After Acute Spinal Cord Injury?
NOV 29, 2021
What is the Value of MRI After Acute Spinal Cord Injury?
Your spine is made up of bones stabilized by multiple ligaments and muscles along its length. The spinal cord within the ...
NOV 30, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Historical land dispossession makes Native Americans more vulnerable to climate change
NOV 30, 2021
Historical land dispossession makes Native Americans more vulnerable to climate change
Indigenous nations across the United States have lost 98.9% of their historical land base, leaving them more vulnerable ...
DEC 01, 2021
Neuroscience
Researchers Use the Internet to Control Animal Brains Remotely
DEC 01, 2021
Researchers Use the Internet to Control Animal Brains Remotely
Researchers can remotely control the brain circuits of multiple animals at the same time using the internet. The corresp ...
Loading Comments...