There is some exciting news coming from researchers at the NIH about stress research and the mechanisms involved in both succumbing to stress and effectively dealing with stress.
Researchers have discovered, even though in a mouse model, that dealing with stress successfully involves a different molecular mechanism than becoming overwhelmed by stress. The brain regions tested by the mouse model are also present in the human brain, hence allowing for the possibility to develop proper treatments for stress induced mental illness.
Researchers simply asked the question: Why are some people resilient to stress, while others are not? Basically what it comes down to is the discovery of differences in the impulse firing by cells that make dopamine. It was found that the mice susceptible to stress also had excessive rates of impulse firing, whereas adaptive mice showed normal rates of firing due to a protective mechanism. This protective mechanism, an increased activity of channels that allow for potassium to flow into cells thus decreasing the firing rates.
Also linked to this process is a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor (neurotrophin 2) and the areas of the brain called VTA (ventral tegmental area) and the NAc (nucleus accumbens). The mechanism in vulnerable mice seems to originate in the VTA. Excess BDNF sent chemical signals from the VTA to the NAc, making the mice more vulnerable to stress.
Then researchers tested genetics and they also tried blocking signals with chemical compounds. The gene model showed that in stress resilient mice many more genes went to work in the VTA than in stress susceptible mice. Blocking chemical signaling from the VTA to NAc turned vulnerable mice into resistant mice.
One final comparison NIH researches drew was between brain tissues of diseased people with a history of depression and the brain tissue of mice vulnerable to stress. Both tissues had an accumulation of higher than usual BDNF protein, thus researches possibly found a biological explanation between stress and depression.
I am excited about this research because it explains and shows that there is no Cartesian split between the mind and the body. This research also shows that further down the road, as we gain more and more knowledge about psychoneuroimmunology, we possibly could find that we actually could cure many diseases simply by consciously altering our brain chemistry through available mind-body modalities, at least when it comes to diseases originating with stress. At this point in my studies I have seen plenty of scientific evidence allowing for this very exciting possibility. If we can affect our blood pressure via mindful mediation, and know that ADD is responsive to Biofeedback, why should it not be possible to deliberately influence diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity with “brain work?”
"Stress: Brain Yields Clues About Why Some Succumb While Others Prevail – October 18, 2007." National Institutes of Health: News and Events (Oct 18, 2007): NA. General OneFile. Gale. LIRN. 27 Nov. 2007
Gale Document Number:A169992758