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Evolutionary, Historical and Mechanistic Perspectives on How Stress Affects Memory and Hippocampal Synaptic Plasticity

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Synaptic Stress and Pathogenesis of Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Abstract

We have reviewed research on stress effects on brain and memory processing from evolutionary, historic, and mechanistic perspectives. Our view is that the stress response has been refined through the process of natural selection to provide a rapid activation of attention and memory-related neural systems in response to a threat to survival. Specifically, stress enhances synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus (in conjunction with amygdala activation) to generate a rapid, but time-restricted, enhancement of memory. The activation period, lasting only seconds to minutes, is followed by a period in which the hippocampus is relatively resistant to developing excitatory plasticity. One consequence of this rapid, but brief, activation of the hippocampus in response to intense stress is that life-threatening experiences can produce abnormal memories which represent only small fragments of the original experience. These fragmented memories of trauma are highly resistant to extinction, and underlie the intrusive memories commonly reported in people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This evolutionary-based perspective may provide insight into the neurobiological basis of traumatic memories and aid in the development of more effective treatments for individuals diagnosed with PTSD.

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Abbreviations

AMPA:

α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid

CaMKII:

Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinases II

CRH:

Corticotropin-releasing hormone

GR:

Glucocorticoid receptor

LTP:

Long-term potentiation

MR:

Mineralocorticoid receptor

NE:

Norepinephrine

NMDA:

N-methyl D-aspartate

PB:

Primed burst

pMAPK2:

Phosphorylated mitogen-activated protein kinase 2

PTSD:

Posttraumatic stress disorder

VTA:

Ventral tegmental area

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Acknowledgments

The researchers were supported by Career Scientist and Merit Review Awards from the Veterans Affairs Department during the production of this chapter. The opinions expressed in this chapter are those of the authors and not of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the US government.

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Correspondence to David M. Diamond .

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Farmer, G., Park, C., Bullard, L., Diamond, D. (2014). Evolutionary, Historical and Mechanistic Perspectives on How Stress Affects Memory and Hippocampal Synaptic Plasticity. In: Popoli, M., Diamond, D., Sanacora, G. (eds) Synaptic Stress and Pathogenesis of Neuropsychiatric Disorders. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4939-1056-4_10

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