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Brain Learns to Manage Stress Early in Life

Brain Learns to Manage Stress Early in Life Provocative new animal research suggests that the ability to manage stress is not genetically hardwired into our brain. Rather the brain learns from early experiences and develops pathways that prepare the brain for future challenges.

Using a number of cutting-edge approaches, including optogenetics, researchers at Canada’s University of Calgary discovered that stress circuits in the brain undergo profound learning early in life.

Stress circuits consist of the interaction between the nervous system and stress hormones—specifically, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

In the study, Jaideep Bains, Ph.D., and colleagues learned that stress circuits are capable of self-tuning following a single stress.

These findings demonstrate that the brain uses stress experience during early life to prepare and optimize for subsequent challenges.

The team was able to show the existence of unique time windows following brief stress challenges during which learning is either increased or decreased. By manipulating specific cellular pathways, they uncovered the key players responsible for learning in stress circuits in an animal model.

The findings are discussed in two studies published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

“These new findings demonstrate that systems thought to be ‘hard-wired’ in the brain, are in fact flexible, particularly early in life,” says Bains.

“Using this information, researchers can now ask questions about the precise cellular and molecular links between early life stress and stress vulnerability or resilience later in life.”

Stress vulnerability, or increased sensitivity to stress, has been implicated in numerous health conditions including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and depression.

Although these studies used animal models, similar mechanisms mediate disease progression in humans.

“Our observations provide an important foundation for designing more effective preventative and therapeutic strategies that mitigate the effects of stress and meet society’s health challenges,” he says.

Source: University of Calgary

Brains develop at t a young photo shutterstock.

Brain Learns to Manage Stress Early in Life

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. (2018). Brain Learns to Manage Stress Early in Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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