February 3, 2024: New research from the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto Medical School suggests that excessive stress during adolescence may lead to changes in gene expression in the brain, particularly affecting bioenergy functions. The study, conducted using a rat model, indicates that these alterations may disrupt cell respiration, contributing to behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders in adulthood.
In animal trials, rats exposed to adolescent stress exhibited marked impairments in anxiety, reduced sociability, and cognitive function, indicating the potential impact on adult behavior.
The prefrontal cortex, a key brain region for cognitive control, showed lower expression levels of genes related to mitochondrial respiration in the stressed rats.
Mitochondria, crucial for providing chemical energy for neurons, play a significant role in regulating social behavior, including responses to stress.
The research, supported by FAPESP, emphasizes the critical period of brain plasticity during adolescence and its susceptibility to social and environmental factors. The prefrontal cortex, a key brain region for cognitive control, showed lower expression levels of genes related to mitochondrial respiration in the stressed rats.
The prefrontal cortex, essential for emotional control in adulthood, displayed altered gene expression, particularly in mitochondrial function. Mitochondria, crucial for providing chemical energy for neurons, play a significant role in regulating social behavior, including responses to stress.
“Like the human brain, the brain of an adolescent rat is highly plastic. This plasticity is seen at the molecular level and in terms of behavior. Changes in the expression profiles of specific genes in different brain regions lead to alterations in brain cell connectivity, which spread systemically and can produce persistent alterations in adulthood that correlate with psychiatric disorders,” said Thamyris Santos-Silva, first author of the article. At the time of the study, she was a PhD candidate in pharmacology at FMRP-USP.
“Adolescence is a critical period for brain plasticity, which is significantly influenced by social experience,” added Felipe Villela Gomes, co-author of the article and a professor in FMRP-USP’s Department of Pharmacology.
“Susceptibility to adverse social and environmental factors, such as traumas, insults and abuse, increases during this period, and social experience can influence vulnerability and resilience to stress.”
The study’s next steps involve investigating whether the observed behavioral profile in stressed adolescents can predict an individual’s response to stress and the potential development of psychiatric disorders. Additionally, researchers aim to explore genetic alterations, providing insights into combating the impact of stress on gene expression.
This study sheds light on the intricate relationship between adolescent stress, gene expression, and long-term effects on behavior, urging further exploration of potential preventive measures and interventions.
The research can be accessed here.