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Stress Affects Learning and Memory

neuronAlthough it is known that long-term or chronic stress can affect the brain’s learning and memory region, a new finding discovers short-term stress, lasting as little as a few hours, can also impair brain-cell communication in these critical areas.

The study by University of California, Irvine researchers appears in the March 12 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.

“Stress is a constant in our lives and cannot be avoided,” said Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, the Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences in the UC Irvine School of Medicine and study leader.

“Our findings can play an important role in the current development of drugs that might prevent these undesirable effects and offer insights into why some people are forgetful or have difficulty retaining information during stressful situations.”

In their study, Baram and her UC Irvine colleagues identified a novel process by which stress caused these effects. They found that rather than involving the widely known stress hormone cortisol, which circulates throughout the body, acute stress activated selective molecules called corticotropin releasing hormones, which disrupted the process by which the brain collects and stores memories.

Learning and memory take place at synapses, which are junctions through which brain cells communicate. These synapses reside on specialized branchlike protrusions on neurons called dendritic spines.

In rat and mouse studies, Baram’s group saw that the release of CRH in the hippocampus, the brain’s primary learning and memory center, led to the rapid disintegration of these dendritic spines, which in turn limited the ability of synapses to collect and store memories.

The researchers discovered that blocking the CRH molecules’ interaction with their receptor molecules eliminated stress damage to dendritic spines in the hippocampal cells involved with learning and memory.

In addition, the authors replicated the effects of stress on dendritic spines by administering low levels of synthetic CRH, and watching how the spines retracted over minutes. “Fortunately, once we removed the CRH, the spines seemed to grow back,” Baram said.

Baram also noted that there are compounds under development that show the ability to block CRH receptors, and that this study can play a role in the creation of therapies based on these compounds to address stress-related learning and memory loss.

Source: University of California – Irvine

Stress Affects Learning and Memory

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Stress Affects Learning and Memory. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2008/03/12/stress-affects-learning-and-memory/2031.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
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