Resilience :: Ability to handle stress, depression linked to brain mechanism

Results of a new study may one day help scientists learn how to enhance a naturally occurring mechanism in the brain that promotes resilience to psychological stress. Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that, in a mouse model, the ability to adapt to stress is driven by a distinctly different molecular mechanism than is the tendency to be overwhelmed by stress. The researchers mapped out the mechanisms – components of which also are present in the human brain – that govern both kinds of responses.

In humans, stress can play a major role in the development of several mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A key question in mental health research is: Why are some people resilient to stress, while others are not”

This research indicates that resistance is not simply a passive absence of vulnerability mechanisms, as was previously thought; it is a biologically active process that results in specific adaptations in the brain’s response to stress.

Resilience is a commonly used concept in psychology (such as in child development, adolescent development, psychopathology, and positive psychology) to describe the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and catastrophe. It is also used to indicate a characteristic of resistance to future negative events. In this sense “resilience” corresponds to cumulative “protective factors” and is used in opposition to cumulative “risk factors”. The phrase risk and resilience in this area of study is quite common. Commonly used terms, which are essentially synonymous within psychology are resilience, psychological resilience, emotional resilience, hardiness, and resourcefulness.

During the 1990’s, enhancing resilience, for example through social support and stress inoculation programs such as outdoor education, became an increasingly sought goal of community intervention efforts.

Two important principles that have been discovered in cumulative risk and resilience are those of developmental trajectories and clustering of factors. (Cairns & Cairns, n.d.).

Vaishnav Krishnan, an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Medical Scientist Training Program and lead author of the paper, said, “The study yields significant insights into molecular mechanisms that may underlie individual differences of people in reacting to stressful life events.”

Results of the study were published online in Cell, on October 18, by Vaishnav Krishnan, Ming-Hu Han, PhD, Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD. Other UT Southwestern researchers involved in the study were Quincey LaPlant, William Renthal and Paul Tannous, all Medical Scientist Training Program students; Robin Reister and Ami Graham, research assistants in psychiatry; Drs. Danielle Graham, Diane Lagace and Thomas Green, all postdoctoral researchers in psychiatry; Drs. Scott Russo and Sumana Chakravarty, assistant instructors of psychiatry; Drs. Ming-Hu Han, Olivier Berton, Michael Lutter and Arvind Kumar, instructors of psychiatry; Drs. Subroto Ghose, Amelia Eisch and Donald Cooper, assistant professors of psychiatry; Drs. David Self and Howard Gershenfeld, associate professors of psychiatry; and Dr. Carol Tamminga, vice chairman of psychiatry.

Researchers from Harvard University and Cornell University also participated in the study.

The work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression.

— Article compiled by Dr. Anil Singhal MD(Hom.) from medical news release.

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