Feeling stressed? A neuroscientist explains what your brain actually undergoes

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By Charleigh Berry

Dr. Dona Lee Wong, who holds a Ph. D. in neuroscience, talked on Friday to students and faculty about the positive and negative effects of epinephrine on stress and stress-induced illness. The Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute hosted this lecture.

Students from the undergraduate and graduate program as well as faculty involved in biology and brain development studies attended the lecture.

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Students and faculty gather to learn about the effects of stress on the brain. Photo credit: Charleigh Berry

“What’s happening is through this process of being exposed to stress, having epinephrine, glucocorticoids, also stress hormone increase and regulate these processes, permits us to survive,” The speaker said.

Research has shown that epinephrine can have positive and negative effects in terms of stress and PTSD. The current studies are being done on mice.

“For short term stress it’s [epinephrine] supposed to help with turning on systems in the body that help you respond to the stress,” Wong said. “Restore homeostasis, it activates, behavioral and physiological processes that permit us to survive.”

Long term or chronic stress, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), Wong said, must be treated because it can result in stress-related illness. Wong’s study in the treatment of stress-related illness has recreated animal models of PTSD and have conducted therapy that they hope can eventually help humans suffering from PTSD.

“If we could develop a rodent model and tease apart the molecular underpinnings,” Wong said. “That perhaps by understanding how it occurs, what the different processes are, that we might be able to in the end develop therapies for early intervention.”

Wong said that she hopes that by presenting this information to the SMU community, she can pass on techniques that can relate to SMU students and faculty who are interested in the subject.

“I am hoping to learn about the relationship between epinephrine and stress-induced illness. I have learned about both individually in previous classes,” Sophi Farid, an SMU pre-med student, said. “However, I hope that this lecture can provide a new perspective by illustrating how they work in combination with one another.”

A graduate student in the MA program for molecular and cell biology, Riley Spencer said he “was interested in better understanding the effects of stress on the body and its effect on illness.”

“I used this presentation as an opportunity to understand the biological pathways involved rather than how it could apply to humans and stress-induced situations of everyday life,” Farid said. “I believe research on epinephrine and its effect on human stress will be the next step in their studies.”

Students felt that the work being done with PTSD and rodents will help with PTSD in humans.

“It can advance our knowledge and understanding of diseases like PTSD and other things like that and help our people,” Spencer said.

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