Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genes determine traces that stress leaves behind on brains

Date:
August 18, 2014
Source:
Medical University of Vienna
Summary:
Our individual genetic make-up determines the effect that stress has on our emotional centers, researchers have found. Not every individual reacts in the same way to life events that produce the same degree of stress. Some grow as a result of the crisis, whereas others break down and fall ill, for example with depression. The outcome is determined by a complex interaction between depression gene versions and environmental factors.

Just how stressful life events impact on the size of the hippocampus depends on more than just environmental factors. There are genes that determine whether the same life event causes an increase or decrease in the volume of the hippocampus, and which therefore defines whether the stress is good or bad for our brain. The more risk genes an individual has, the more negative an impact the "life events" have on the size of the hippocampus.
Credit: Dmytro Tolokonov / Fotolia

Our individual genetic make-up determines the effect that stress has on our emotional centres. These are the findings of a group of researchers from the MedUni Vienna. Not every individual reacts in the same way to life events that produce the same degree of stress. Some grow as a result of the crisis, whereas others break down and fall ill, for example with depression. The outcome is determined by a complex interaction between depression gene versions and environmental factors.

Related Articles


The Vienna research group, together with international cooperation partners, have demonstrated that there are interactions between stressful life events and certain risk gene variants that subsequently change the volume of the hippocampus forever.

The hippocampus is a switching station in the processing of emotions and acts like a central interface when dealing with stress. It is known to react very sensitively to stress. In situations of stress that are interpreted as a physical danger ('distress'), it shrinks in size, which is a phenomenon observed commonly in patients with depression and one which is responsible for some of their clinical symptoms. By contrast, positive stress ('eustress'), of the kind that can occur in emotionally exciting social situations can actually cause the hippocampus to increase in size.

According to the results of the study, just how stressful life events impact on the size of the hippocampus depends on more than just environmental factors. There are genes that determine whether the same life event causes an increase or decrease in the volume of the hippocampus, and which therefore defines whether the stress is good or bad for our brain. The more risk genes an individual has, the more negative an impact the "life events" have on the size of the hippocampus. Where there are no or only a few risk genes, this life event can actually have a positive effect.

Examining life crises

As part of the study, carried out at the University Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (led by Siegfried Kasper), the study team obtained quantitative information from healthy test subjects about stressful life events, such as deaths in the family, divorce, unemployment, financial losses, relocations, serious illnesses or accidents.

A high-resolution anatomical magnetic resonance scan was also carried out (at the High-Field MR Centre of Excellence, Department of MR Physics, led by Ewald Moser). The University Department of Laboratory Medicine (Harald Esterbauer and colleagues) carried out the gene analyses (COMT Val158Met, BDNF Val66Met, 5-HTTLPR). At the University Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, primary author Ulrich Rabl measured the volume of the test subjects' hippocampi using computer-assisted techniques and analysed the results in the context of the genetic and environmental data.

"People with the three gene versions believed to encourage depression had a smaller hippocampus than those with fewer or none of these gene versions, even though they had the same number of stressful life events," says study leader Lukas Pezawas, describing the results. People with only one or even none of the risk genes, on the other hand, had an enlarged hippocampus with similar life events.

The study highlights the importance of gene and environment interaction as a determining factor for the volume of the hippocampus. "These results are important for understanding neurobiological processes in stress-associated illnesses such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is ultimately our genes that determine whether stress makes us psychologically unwell or whether it encourages our mental health," explains Pezawas.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, was funded by a special research project of the FWF (Austrian Science Fund) (SFB-35, led by Harald Sitte) and presented as a highlight at the international conference on "Organization for Human Brain Mapping."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Medical University of Vienna. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. U. Rabl, B. M. Meyer, K. Diers, L. Bartova, A. Berger, D. Mandorfer, A. Popovic, C. Scharinger, J. Huemer, K. Kalcher, G. Pail, H. Haslacher, T. Perkmann, C. Windischberger, B. Brocke, H. H. Sitte, D. D. Pollak, J.-C. Dreher, S. Kasper, N. Praschak-Rieder, E. Moser, H. Esterbauer, L. Pezawas. Additive Gene-Environment Effects on Hippocampal Structure in Healthy Humans. Journal of Neuroscience, 2014; 34 (30): 9917 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3113-13.2014

Cite This Page:

Medical University of Vienna. "Genes determine traces that stress leaves behind on brains." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140818094834.htm>.
Medical University of Vienna. (2014, August 18). Genes determine traces that stress leaves behind on brains. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 28, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140818094834.htm
Medical University of Vienna. "Genes determine traces that stress leaves behind on brains." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140818094834.htm (accessed February 28, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could a $34 Smartphone Device Improve HIV Diagnosis in Africa?

Could a $34 Smartphone Device Improve HIV Diagnosis in Africa?

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Feb. 27, 2015) A dongle that plugs into a Smartphone mimics a lab-based blood test for HIV and syphilis and can detect the diseases in 15 minutes, say researchers. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctor Says Head Transplants Possible Within Two Years

Doctor Says Head Transplants Possible Within Two Years

Buzz60 (Feb. 27, 2015) An Italian doctor is saying he could stick someone&apos;s head onto someone else&apos;s body. Patrick Jones (@Patrick_E_Jones) reports. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Dentist Could Help Screen You For Diabetes

How Your Dentist Could Help Screen You For Diabetes

Newsy (Feb. 27, 2015) A new study from researchers at New York University suggests dentists could soon use blood samples taken from patients&apos; mouths to test for diabetes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Tips to Makeover Your Health

The Best Tips to Makeover Your Health

Buzz60 (Feb. 27, 2015) If you&apos;re looking to boost your health this season, there are a few quick and easy steps to prompt you for success. Krystin Goodwin (@Krystingoodwin) has the best tips to give your health a makeover this spring! Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins