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Research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that chronic stress generates long-term changes in the brain that could explain why those suffering from chronic stress are prone to mental problems, especially anxiety and mood disorders. The findings could lead to new therapies for stress counseling and after-event stress mitigation.
The study builds on the abnormalities found in the brain in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as amounts of gray versus white matter. This has long been associated with PTSD adn it is known that gray matter consists mostly of neural cells while white matter is made up of axons, which are a network of fibers that interconnect neurons.
A series of experiments by U.C. Berkeley Associate Professor of Integrative Biology Daniela Kaufer and graduate students discovered that chronic stress generates more cells that produce myelin (white matter) and fewer neurons, resulting in white matter becoming more prevalent in some areas of the brain. This can, researchers into PTSD theorize, upset the balance and timing of communication and Professor Kaufer believes it to be true of chronic stress as well.
"We studied only one part of the brain, the hippocampus, but our findings could provide insight into how white matter is changing in conditions such as schizophrenia, autism, depression, suicide, ADHD and PTSD," she said.
Kaufer and her colleagues published their findings in the February 11 issue of Molecular Psychiatry.
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