Trophic Factors: Stress and the Shrinking Brain

I can't help but pass along this article in the Boston Globe about Drawing of Purkinje cells (A) and granule cell...the causes of depression and the beneficial action of Prozac. The neuroscience in this article is really interesting. Seratonin may not be the really helpful brain chemical in the action of the SSRIs! Instead, there is a class of proteins (known as "trophic factors") which help brain neurons grow and survive.

Numerous studies had shown that chronic stress damages the brain by suppressing the release of trophic factors. In a series of influential papers published earlier this decade, Duman demonstrated that the same destructive hallmark is seen in depression, so that our neurons are deprived of what they need.

"The mental illness occurs when these stress mechanisms in the brain spiral out of control," he says.

Once that happens, the brain begins to shut itself down, suppressing all but the most essential upkeep.
It is thought that Prozac, and behaviors which help depression, like exercise, apparently work by increasing the release of these proteins and promoting the health of brain cells. A fascinating new theory, in part for its identification of "chronic stress" as one of the risk factors of depression. Apparently, stress can become so harmful that susceptible individuals can develop a kind of organic brain syndrome that actually shrinks brain tissue and results in the syndrome we have come to know as clinical depression.

I'm again reminded that mindfulness (like diet and exercise) is one of the great "protective factors" available to us. Mindfulness not only helps to reduce stress by helping us to see through the stressful mental dramas our minds create on a seemingly endless basis, it also helps us to open up to the true joys of life. It's not hard to imagine that this could actually be healing to the brain!

Thanks to Delany Dean for alerting me to this article through her "my del.icio.us" list.


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1 comment:

Mr.Angus said...

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