Chronic Stress and Neural Function: Accounting for Sex and Age

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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Cognitive responses to stress follow the temporally dependent pattern originally established by Selye (1) wherein short-term stressors elicit adaptive responses whereas continued stress (chronic) results in maladaptive changes – deleterious effects on physiological systems and impaired cognition. However, this pattern for cognitive effects appears to apply to only half the population (males) and, more specifically, to young, adult males. Females show different cognitive responses to stress. In contrast to impaired cognition in males after chronic stress, female rodents show enhanced performance on the same memory tasks after the same stress. Not only cognition, but anxiety, shows sex-dependent changes following chronic stress – stress is anxiolytic in males and anxiogenic in females. Moreover, behavioral responses to chronic stress are different in developing as well as aging subjects (both sexes) as compared to adults. In aged rats, chronic stress enhances recognition memory in both sexes, does not alter spatial memory, and anxiety effects are opposite to young adults. When pregnant dams are exposed to chronic stress, at adulthood the offspring display yet different consequences of stress on anxiety and cognition, and, in contrast to adulthood when the behavioral effects of stress are reversible, prenatal stress effects appear enduring. Changing levels of estradiol in the sexes over the lifespan appear to contribute to the differences in response to stress. Thus, theories of stress dependent moduations in CNS function – developed solely in male models, focused on peripheral physiological processes and tested in adults – may require revision when applied to a more diverse population (age- and sex-wise) at least in relation to the neural functions of codnition and anxiety. Moreover, these results suggest that other stressors and neural functions should be investigated to determine whether age, sex and gonadal hormones also have an impact.


Published: Luine, V.N., K.D. Beck, R. Bowman, et al. "Chronic Stress And Neural Function: Accounting For Sex And Age." Journal Of Neuroendocrinology 19.10 (2007): 743-751.



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