Study: Chronic Stress May Affect Probability of Mental Illness

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The Times of India highlighted interesting news regarding the link between chronic stress and mental illness Wednesday, reporting on a study conducted by Daniela Kaufer, UC Berkeley associate professor of integrative biology, and her colleagues, including graduate students Sundari Chetty and Aaron Freidman.

According to The Times of India, the researchers found conclusive evidence that chronic stress results in a disruption of the delicate balance and timing of communication within the brain. It has long been suggested that chronic stress causes long-term changes in the brain, resulting in those with chronic stress suffering from mental problems like anxiety and mood disorders later in life; however, the researchers found further support for that claim when they discovered that chronic stress generates more myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal. This causes an excess of myelin in some areas of the brain, and that is what upsets the balance and communication within the brain.

Keufer’s lab did its research on adult rats, and it was on these specimens that the researchers were able to study the molecular and cellular effects of acute and chronic stress, focused especially on neural stem cells in the hippocampus of the brains of the rats. Before their research, the scientists thought that stem cells only matured into neurons or a type of glial cell called an astrocyte. However, from their research, they could conclude that chronic stress also makes stem cells in the hippocampus mature into another type of glial cell called an oligodendrocyte, which produces the myelin that sheaths nerve cells.

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