A Single Stressful Event is Likely to Cause Long-Term Effects in the Brain, Says Study

Stress is a common neurodegenerative disease which can result in numerous physical and mental diseases. Mostly related to psychological pressure, traumatic events and natural catastrophes, stress is associated with significant changes in nerve transmission and in the structure of neuronal “circuits,” observed a 2016 study published online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Until now, stress-related mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were found to be more common among military veterans than the general population. But PTSD, characterized by constant fear and stress, is rather a common disorder among those who have witnessed a shocking, scary or dangerous event. Flashbacks, nightmares, sounds and images are some of the common symptoms of PTSD.

Stress can be so harmful that even a single traumatic event can have long-term negative effects on the brain, which can Synapse xt eventually lead to PTSD. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), traumatic events can be associated with lasting changes in the brain with PTSD resulting in a lifelong problem in many patients. Stressful life events (small or massive) can thus become a major risk factor for the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, as per the study.

Stress-related changes may be relevant for pathophysiology of PTSD

In the past, the researchers found that even a short-lived spell of stress of about 40 minutes can increase the release of glutamate (excitatory transmitter) in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). During the process, stress induces a rapid increase in the number of excitatory synapses, which causes atrophy of dendrites (the receiving part of neurons containing receptors for glutamate). However, this effect can be noticed only several days after repeated exposure to stress.

In the present study, it was revealed that the enhancement of glutamate secretion in PFC remains as it is even after 24 hours of being exposed to stress. After 24 hours, there is a significant degeneration in the apical dendrites, the receiving end of neurons containing receptors for glutamate, which is usually associated with chronic stress.

“It appears that a single exposure to stress may have long-term functional (glutamate release) and structural (dendrite atrophy) consequences. The dendrite atrophy was found to be sustained for two weeks after stress,” said the authors. However, by measuring the glutamate release, the researchers are hopeful of developing new remedies for the treatment of PTSD.

Impact of stress on the brain

Repetitive experience of stress elevates the levels of cortisol and stress hormone, which can further affect physical, mental and emotional health. Stress can trigger an enzyme that attacks the molecule responsible for regulating synapses, thereby causing irritability While chronic stress can potentially reduce the volume of the brain regions associated with emotions, self-control and physiological functions, one traumatic event can destroy the newly formed brain cells in hippocampus.


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