The following is excerpted from an online article posted by MedicalXpress.
Excessive stress during adolescence can cause alterations in the profile of genes expressed in the brain, especially those associated with bioenergy functions. These alterations may affect cell respiration, resulting in behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders in adulthood, according to a study in rats conducted by researchers at the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto Medical School (FMRP-USP) in Brazil.
The results were published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
“Like the human brain, the brain of an adolescent rat is highly plastic. This plasticity is seen at the molecular level and in terms of behavior. Changes in the expression profiles of specific genes in different brain regions lead to alterations in brain cell connectivity, which spread systemically and can produce persistent alterations in adulthood that correlate with psychiatric disorders,” said Thamyris Santos-Silva, first author of the article. At the time of the study, she was a Ph.D. candidate in pharmacology at FMRP-USP.
“Adolescence is a critical period for brain plasticity, which is significantly influenced by social experience,” added Felipe Villela Gomes, last author of the article and a professor in FMRP-USP’s Department of Pharmacology. “Susceptibility to adverse social and environmental factors, such as traumas, insults and abuse, increases during this period, and social experience can influence vulnerability and resilience to stress.”
The study began by analyzing behavioral responses to stress, such as anxiety, social interaction and cognition, in late-adolescent rats. The animals were exposed to a stress protocol for ten consecutive days that coincided with an intense period of brain plasticity. They were then submitted to specific tests to assess their behavior, and the results showed distinct impairment in every case.
“We found that stressed animals in this life stage displayed a markedly poor behavioral profile, with anxiety, reduced sociability and impaired cognitive function,” Gomes said.