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How often do we talk about how stressed out we are? Hourly? That�s terrible because chronic stress wears down the mind and body. It can cause mood disorders, such as depression, which have enormous effects on the brain.
For example, the hippocampus, which is the brain�s memory center, can shrink in people with a history of depression. And neurons � cells that allow a brain to receive and transmit signals – don�t function normally. A new report leaves little doubt about stress�s toll on the brain.
The study shows chronic stress blocks a gene called neuritin that normally protects the brain from mood disorders. Researchers experimented with rats, which also possess the neuritin gene. For 35 days the rats were isolated, given no food or play, and had their light and dark cycles flipped. As expected, the rats showed signs of depression.
They lost interest in food and sweetened drinks, and didn�t swim when placed in water. These rats had significantly lower neuritin gene activity compared with rats in a control group. Some of the depressed rats were given anti-depressants to recover and others were injected with an engineered virus to spur neuritin gene activity.
The two groups of rats recovered equally well, which suggests neuritin is effective at blocking stress and mood disorders. To further prove neuritin can protect the brain from depression, researchers blocked the neuritin gene in healthy rats to see if they�d become depressed. They did.
Researchers can use the study to develop new therapies to treat mood disorders, which
plague one in four Americans. Finding more effective treatments can fill a gap, since anti-depressants only work thirty percent of the time. What�s crystal clear is that we all need to lower the stress in our lives.