Discovering the brain's ingenious ways of minimising stress
Researchers from our Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology have identified a protein in the brain that helps minimise the effects of stress. The protein, called lipocalin-2, is produced during times of anxiety and helps dim our recollection of stressful memories. But don't get too excited - that pill to help you forget painful break-ups is still a long way off.
Dr Robert Pawlak, who led the research, said that adding the lipocalin-2 protein to brain cells in the lab reduced the parts of the cells that encode memories - the spindly 'memory spines' that link cells to each other and store information. More links make for stronger memories - cutting down on links means memories fade away. The lipocalin-2 protein is produced during times of stress, when it goes to work trimming down brain cells and helping bad memories disappear.
Dr Pawlak and his team found that mice that couldn't make lipocalin-2 became more anxious in response to stressful events. They became withdrawn and their brains showed more memory spines - meaning more stressful memories had been stored. They theorise that lipocalin-2 works to help us forget and move on from painful experiences, thus reducing the effects of stress.
The research, which has been published in the prestigious journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), could help scientists understand why some people cope better with stress than others, and help in the future treatment of stress-related illness.