Stress Signalling Pathways That Impair Prefrontal Cortex Structure and Function

Jul 10, 20242 min
Author's Profile picture
Dr. Himanshu Nirvan
Mave Health, ex AIIMS ex Safdarjung
MH RI 3 - Stress Signalling Pathways That Impair Prefrontal Cortex Structure and Function

Author Names:

  • Amy F. T. Arnsten, Department of Neurobiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  • Published Date: June 2009
  • Source: Nature Reviews Neuroscience

MaveHealth Disclaimer: 

The content provided here is an interpretation of a research paper for educational purposes. It is simplified to make the findings accessible to a general audience. For detailed information, please refer to the original research paper.


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) regulates our highest-order cognitive abilities but is highly sensitive to stress. This paper reviews how stress impacts PFC functions, leading to cognitive deficits and structural changes. It explores the intracellular signalling pathways involved and discusses how these findings can help us understand mental illnesses and potential treatments.

Key Concepts:

  • Prefrontal Cortex (PFC): The brain region responsible for high-level cognitive functions like decision-making, attention, and inhibitory control.
  • Stress Signalling Pathways: Biological processes triggered by stress that can alter brain function and structure.
  • Working Memory: The ability to hold and manipulate information over short periods, crucially dependent on the PFC.

Procedure Highlight - Research Methodology:

  1. Human Studies: Observations and experimental manipulations show that stress impairs PFC-dependent tasks requiring complex thinking while enhancing simpler tasks.
  2. Animal Studies: Using tasks that rely on PFC function, such as spatial working memory, researchers found that even mild stress impairs PFC performance.
  3. Neuroimaging and Biochemical Analyses: Studies utilize imaging and biochemical techniques to observe changes in brain activity and chemical signalling during stress.

Results - Findings of Research:

  • Acute Stress Effects: Acute stress rapidly impairs PFC functions, reducing cognitive flexibility and working memory in humans and animals.
  • Chronic Stress Effects: Prolonged stress leads to structural changes in the PFC, such as dendritic retraction, reducing cognitive abilities.
  • Intracellular Signalling: High levels of stress hormones like noradrenaline and dopamine alter intracellular pathways (e.g., cAMP-PKA, PKC), impairing PFC neuron function.
  • Genetic and Environmental Factors: Genetic variations and environmental insults like trauma or toxins can exacerbate stress signalling, further impairing PFC function and contributing to mental illnesses.

Discussion and Conclusion: 

This study elucidates how stress impacts PFC function through specific signalling pathways, leading to cognitive deficits and structural changes. Understanding these mechanisms is crucial for developing better treatments for stress-related mental illnesses.

For example, targeting specific receptors or signalling pathways might help restore PFC function in affected individuals. The research highlights the importance of managing stress to maintain cognitive health and prevent mental illness.

PMC Link:Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function

Copyright and License Information: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY 4.0). For more information, visit Creative Commons License.

Author's Profile picture
Dr. Himanshu Nirvan
Mave Health, ex AIIMS ex Safdarjung
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