- Normally, neurons receive different chemical signals that tell them to either switch on or switch off.
- What Bains and colleagues have shown is that stress turns down the activity of KCC2, thus removing the ability of the brake, a chemical known as GABA, to work properly.
- A loss of the brain's ability to slow down may explain some of the harmful, emotional consequences of stress.
Using a rat model, Jaideep Bains, PhD, a University of Calgary scientist and his team of researchers at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute have discovered that neurons in the hypothalamus, the brain's command centre for stress responses, interpret 'off' chemical signals as 'on' chemical signals when stress is perceived. "It's as if the brakes in your car are now acting to speed up the vehicle, rather than slow it down." says Bains. This unexpected finding is being published in the March 1st online edition of Nature Neuroscience.
"I was fascinated when I learned of this work. It has not been clear till now how the neuroendocrine stress response was activated by external stressors. Bains' work shows a complex, yet elegant solution, involving a switch from inhibition to excitation." says Jane Stewart, PhD a behavioural neuroscientist from Concordia University, "these findings may lead to a better understanding of the changes in sensitivity to stress that result from chronic exposure."