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Title: Chronic Stress Weakens Connectivity in the Prefrontal Cortex: Architectural and Molecular Changes
Chronic exposure to uncontrollable stress causes loss of spines and dendrites in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a recently evolved brain region that provides top-down regulation of thought, action, and emotion. PFC neurons generate top-down goals through recurrent excitatory connections on spines. This persistent firing is the foundation for higher cognition, including working memory, and abstract thought. However, exposure to acute uncontrollable stress drives high levels of catecholamine release in the PFC, which activates feedforward calcium-cAMP signaling pathways to open nearby potassium channels, rapidly weakening synaptic connectivity to reduce persistent firing. Chronic stress exposures can further exacerbate these signaling events leading to loss of spines and resulting in marked cognitive impairment. In this review, we discuss how stress signaling mechanisms can lead to spine loss, including changes to BDNF-mTORC1 signaling, calcium homeostasis, actin dynamics, and mitochondrial actions that engage glial removal of spines through inflammatory signaling. Stress signaling events may be amplified in PFC spines due to cAMP magnification of internal calcium release. As PFC dendritic spine loss is a feature of many cognitive disorders, understanding how stress affects the structure and function of the PFC will help to inform strategies for treatment and prevention.  more » « less
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Chronic Stress
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National Science Foundation
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