, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 121-136

Stress and the developing hippocampus

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The mechanisms that regulate neuronal function are a sum of genetically determined programs and experience. The effect of experience on neuronal function is particularly important during development, because early-life positive and adverse experience (stress) may influence the still “plastic” nervous system long-term. Specifically, for hippocampal-mediated learning and memory processes, acute stress may enhance synaptic efficacy and overall learning ability, and conversely, chronic or severe stress has been shown to be detrimental. The mechanisms that enable stress to act as this “double-edged sword” are unclear. Here, we discuss the molecular mediators of the stress response in the hippocampus with an emphasis on novel findings regarding the role of the neuropeptide known as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). We highlight the physiological and pathological roles of this peptide in the developing hippocampus, and their relevance to the long-term effects of early-life experience on cognitive function during adulthood.