What does stress do to the brain? UB researcher receives $2 million grant to find out

brain stress illustration.

NIH grant will be used to investigate molecular mechanisms underlying the physiology of stress as well as therapeutic strategies

Release Date: November 23, 2015

Zhen Yan, PhD

The research builds on Yan's previous work on the effects of stress on neuronal communication and function.

“If you are exposed to short-term stress, you are more alert, more focused and you will perform tasks better. But with repeated stress exposure, you start to have diminished performance... ”
Zhen Yan, PhD, Professor
Department of physiology and biophysics

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A University at Buffalo neuroscientist has received $2 million to find out how stress affects cognition and mental function.

Zhen Yan, PhD, professor of physiology and neuroscience in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, was awarded a five-year, $2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health.

The goal of the grant is to explore the molecular basis of the complex effects of stress. In particular, Yan will investigate factors that determine the switch from the positive effects of acute stress to the negative effects of prolonged stress, and how they might be mitigated. The work builds on Yan’s previous work on the effects of stress on neuronal communication and function.

“If you are exposed to short-term stress, you are more alert, more focused and you will perform tasks better,” Yan explained. “But with repeated stress exposure, you start to have diminished performance from wear and tear on the body and brain. We want to try to understand how these positive effects of stress get switched to negative effects.”

In particular, Yan and her colleagues will explore in animal models whether that transition may be mediated by the loss of key signaling molecules. The loss of those molecules could result from the upregulation of a specific enzyme that occurs in response to prolonged stress exposure.

“We will examine whether inhibiting that enzyme may be a potential therapeutic strategy for rescuing the deleterious effects of chronic stress on cognitive and mental function,” says Yan.

She also will study a family of compounds, currently used in cancer treatment that can rescue the physiological and behavioral deficits induced by repeated stress.

Yan and her colleagues will investigate these and related compounds as potential therapies for stress-related disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

 

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