New evidence that chronic stress predisposes brain to mental illness
University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown that chronic stress generates long-term changes in the brain that may explain why people suffering chronic stress are prone to mental problems such as anxiety and mood disorders later in life. Myelin is stained blue in this cross section of a rat hippocampus. Myelin, which speeds electrical signals flowing through axons, is produced by oligodendrocytes, which increase in number as a result of chronic stress. New oligodendrocytes are shown in yellow. Image by Aaron Friedman and Daniela Kaufer. Their findings could lead to new therapies to reduce the risk of developing mental illness after stressful events. Doctors know that people with stress-related illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have abnormalities in the brain, including differences in the amount of gray matter versus white matter. The hippocampus regulates memory and emotions, and plays a role in various emotional disorders.