Stress hormone impacts memory, learning in diabetic rodents

Feb 17, 2008

Diabetes is known to impair the cognitive health of people, but now scientists have identified one potential mechanism underlying these learning and memory problems. A new National Institutes of Health (NIH) study in diabetic rodents finds that increased levels of a stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland disrupt the healthy functioning of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for learning and short-term memory. Moreover, when levels of the adrenal glucocorticoid hormone corticosterone (also known as cortisol in humans) are returned to normal, the hippocampus recovers its ability to build new cells and regains the “plasticity” needed to compensate for injury and disease and adjust to change.

The study appears in the Feb. 17, 2008, issue of Nature Neuroscience and was conducted by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the NIH. NIA’s Mark Mattson, Ph.D., and colleagues in the Institute’s Intramural Research Program performed the study with Alexis M. Stranahan, a graduate student at Princeton University in New Jersey.

“This research in animal models is intriguing, suggesting the possibility of novel approaches in preventing and treating cognitive impairment by maintaining normal levels of glucocorticoid,” said Richard J. Hodes, M.D., NIA director. “Further study will provide a better understanding of the often complex interplay between the nervous system, hormones and cognitive health.”

Cortisol production is controlled by the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA), a hormone-producing system involving the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain and the adrenal gland located near the kidney. People with poorly controlled diabetes often have an overactive HPA axis and excessive cortisol produced by the adrenal gland. To study the interaction between elevated stress hormones and the hippocampal function, researchers tested the cognitive abilities and examined the brain tissue in animal models of rats with Type 1 diabetes (insulin deficient) and mice with Type 2 diabetes (insulin resistant).

Researchers found that diabetic animals in both models exhibited learning and memory deficits when cortisol levels were elevated due to impaired plasticity and declines in new cell growth. Returning the levels to normal, however, reversed the negative impact on the hippocampus and restored learning and memory.

“This advance in our understanding of the physiological changes caused by excessive production of cortisol may eventually play a role in preventing and treating cognitive decline in diabetes,” said Mattson, who heads the NIA’s Laboratory of Neurosciences. He and Stranahan explained these findings may also help explain the connection between stress-related mood disorders and diabetes found in human population studies.

Source: National Institute on Aging

Explore further: Prion trials and tribulations: Finding the right tools and experimental models

Related Stories

Too many school students are over-confident

Jun 16, 2015

Many recent, large-scale and international studies confirm that there are things outside of a child's natural intelligence that affect their academic performance. ...

Recommended for you

Researchers reveal a genetic blueprint for cartilage

10 hours ago

Cartilage does a lot more than determine the shapes of people's ears and noses. It also enables people to breathe and to form healthy bones—two processes essential to life. In a study published in Cell Re ...

Latent virus and life expectancy

14 hours ago

The telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences at each end of our chromosomes. Studies show that in every cell division, the telomere is shortened. As a result, the telomere limits the cell to a fixed number of divisions and ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.