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Biological Influence for Stress Disorders in Women

Biological Influence for Stress Disorders in Women Neuroscientists may have discovered why depression and other stress-related psychiatric disorders are more common among women than men.

A study of stress-signaling systems in animal brains has led scientists to discover that females are more sensitive to low levels of an important stress hormone and less able to adapt to high levels than males.

“This is the first evidence for sex differences in how neurotransmitter receptors traffic signals,” said study leader Rita J. Valentino, Ph.D., a behavioral neuroscientist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Although more research is certainly necessary to determine whether this translates to humans, this may help to explain why women are twice as vulnerable as men to stress-related disorders.”

The research appears online today in Molecular Psychiatry.

It has long been recognized that women have a higher incidence of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders, said Valentino, but underlying biological mechanisms for that difference have been unknown.

Her research focuses on corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a hormone that organizes stress responses in mammals.

Analyzing the brains of rats that responded to a swim stress test, Valentino’s team found that in female rats, neurons had receptors for CRF that bound more tightly to cell signaling proteins than in male rats, and thus were more responsive to CRF.

Furthermore, after exposure to stress, male rats had an adaptive response, called internalization, in their brain cells. Their cells reduced the number of CRF receptors, and became less responsive to the hormone. In female rats this adaptation did not occur because a protein important for this internalization did not bind to the CRF receptor.

“This is an animal study, and we cannot say that the biological mechanism is the same in people,” said Valentino, adding that other mechanisms play a role in human stress responses, including the actions of other hormones.

However, she added, “researchers already know that CRF regulation is disrupted in stress-related psychiatric disorders, so this research may be relevant to the underlying human biology.”

Furthermore, said Valentino, much of the previous research on stress disorders in animal models used only male rodents, so important sex differences may have gone undetected.

“Pharmacology researchers investigating CRF antagonists as drug treatments for depression may need to take into account gender differences at the molecular level,” she said.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Biological Influence for Stress Disorders in Women

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). Biological Influence for Stress Disorders in Women. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/06/16/biological-influence-for-stress-disorders-in-women/14632.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.