Washington, Mar 12 : Leading a stress free life really is important, for researchers at the University of California, Irvine have found that short-term stress can affect memory and learning.
Earlier research has already shown that long term stress i.e. severe stress lasting weeks or months, can impair brain-cell communication in areas associated with learning and memory.
Now, the team of researchers led by Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, the Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences in the UC Irvine School of Medicine, has found that short-term stress has the same effect.
Dr. Baram said that the findings could pave the way for the development of drugs to deal with these undesirable effects.
"Stress is a constant in our lives and cannot be avoided. Our findings can play an important role in the current development of drugs that might prevent these undesirable effects and offer insights into why some people are forgetful or have difficulty retaining information during stressful situations," she said.
As a part of the study, the researchers identified a novel process by which stress affected learning and memory.
In a study on rat and mice, the boffins found that instead of involving the widely known stress hormone cortisol, acute stress activated selective molecules called corticotropin releasing hormones (CRH), which disrupted the process by which the brain collects and stores memories.
Learning and memory take place at synapses, which are junctions through which brain cells communicate. These synapses reside on specialized branchlike protrusions on neurons called dendritic spines.
The researchers noted that the release of CRH in the hippocampus, the brain's primary learning and memory center, led to the rapid disintegration of these dendritic spines, which in turn limited the ability of synapses to collect and store memories.
When the interaction between the CRH molecules with their receptor molecules was blocked, the researchers found that it eliminated stress damage to dendritic spines in the hippocampal cells involved with learning and memory.
The study appears in the March 12 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.