The chemical cascade triggered by stress causes radical changes to multiple brain functions, sparking the immediate decisions necessary to survive threats. It happens in milliseconds. How is this feat of near-instant brain connectivity possible? A recent study published in the journal Neuron pinpointed a likely conductor: the neurotransmitter noradrenaline.
Researchers genetically manipulated rodents’ brains to enable the selective release of noradrenaline, normally released only during times of stress. They then scanned the mouse brains while controlling the flow of this neurotransmitter. The results were remarkable.
Noradrenaline triggered a demonstrable “rewiring” of the mouse brains, allowing instant cross-communication and restructuring of neural connections, particularly in brain areas that process sensory stimuli (e.g. sight and sound) and in the amygdala, which processes emotions.
These findings suggest the long-term effects of stress are more profound than previously thought. It’s well-known that noradrenaline changes brain connectivity. But this study showed a profound restructuring of neural connections that surprised even the researchers. It could change not only our understanding of the effects of stress on the brain, but also enable better ways to find solutions for neurochemical dysfunction.
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