Image by MethoxyRoxy, reproduced under CC BY-SA 2.5
Stress is a known risk factor for a number of psychiatric disorders including anxiety and depression. Yet, not everyone who experiences stress develops these disorders. A study by a group of scientists at McGill University in Canada has revealed that the activity of a specific group of cells in the brain, neurons projecting from the ventral hippocampus to the nucleus accumbens, may be able to predict one’s susceptibility to develop stress-induced anxiety and depression.
First, the scientists observed the activity of these neurons in stress-free mice. They found that the cells were more active in naturally anxious mice. They also found increased neuron activity when non-anxious mice socially interacted with a stranger mouse.
They were able to link enhanced neuron activity to stress vulnerability (and increased anxiety behaviors) in female mice. Although the link was only predictive for the behaviors in female mice (which is interesting in itself as females have been shown to be more prone to these disorders), both sexes undergo the same increase in neuronal activity once exposed to stress.
As such, it appears that these neurons may be used as an indicator to predict one’s susceptibility to stress-induced psychiatric disorders. This may pave the way to for future targeted treatments and prevention strategies.