Research conducted at the University of Leicester, have found a particular protein that the brain makes and releases in response to stress that aids coping and affects levels of anxiety and memories of a stressful event.
The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), has examined the nerve cells in the brain that influence learning and recall. Once something has been learned, part of the nerve cells change shape from a ‘thin spine’ in to a ‘mushroom spine’. This change arises to ensure that the information that has been learned is retained in a memory.
Although these mushroom spines help us remember, in order to cope with stress and avoid suffering from anxiety disorders, some bad memories are better forgotten.
The researchers at the University of Leicester have found a particular protein that the brain produces in the hippocampus in response to stress called lipocalin-2. The study suggests that the protein removes some of the mushroom spines associated with bad memories and aids the renewal of ‘thin spines’. In order to establish the proteins use in stress management they removed the protein from mice. When the mice were subjected to stress those with the lipocalin-2 removed were reported to be less extrovert and sociable and were more likely to hide in enclosed dark spaces than explore their surroundings.
This research it has been reported will now form the basis of further investigation establishing whether a boost in lipocalin-2 potentially in the form of a pill could reduced stress related psychiatric disorders such as social phobia, anxiety and depression .