The body's response to stress has adaptive value, but exposure to chronic or severe stress — which is not uncommon in humans — can have long-lasting effects on brain structure and function, which can lead to changes in cognition and to disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This Focus issue highlights recent developments in this field, with a view to understanding the mechanisms that trigger and mediate stress responses, which will enable the development of therapeutic strategies aimed at treating stress-related disorders.


Neural regulation of endocrine and autonomic stress responses

Yvonne M. Ulrich-Lai & James P. Herman


Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10, 397-409 (2009)

The physiological response to stress is regulated by a complex neurocircuitry that integrates and interprets stress-related and homeostatic information. Ulrich-Lai and Herman describe this circuitry, including its adaptation to chronic stress and its overlap with circuits that underlie memory and reward.

Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function

Amy F. T. Arnsten


Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10, 410-422 (2009)

Stress affects cognition and increases noradrenaline and dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Amy Arnsten discusses the intracellular signalling pathways that mediate the effects of these catecholamines on PFC function during acute and chronic stress, focusing on working memory. An interview with Amy Arnsten for Neuropod is available for download.

Stress, memory and the amygdala

Benno Roozendaal, Bruce S. McEwen & Sumantra Chattarji


Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10, 423-433 (2009)

Stressful events often leave strong memories. Roozendaal and colleagues discuss how stress hormones and neurotransmitters acting in the amygdala mediate this phenomenon at the behavioural and synaptic level, and describe how stress-induced remodelling of amygdala neurons might underlie anxiety.

Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition

Sonia J. Lupien, Bruce S. McEwen, Megan R. Gunnar & Christine Heim


Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10, 434-445 (2009)

The effects of stress on the brain depend on the age at which the stress occurs. Reviewing data from animal and human studies, Lupien and colleagues discuss why different disorders emerge in individuals exposed to stress at different times in their lives. An interview with Sonia Lupien for Neuropod is available for download.

Psychobiology and molecular genetics of resilience

Adriana Feder, Eric J. Nestler & Dennis S. Charney


Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10, 446-457 (2009)

Although stress is associated with many physical and mental illnesses, most individuals cope well with it. Feder and colleagues review the factors that underlie stress resilience, showing that it involves adaptive changes in specific neural circuits, neuromodulator levels and molecular pathways.



The neuro-symphony of stress

Marian Joëls & Tallie Z. Baram


Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10, 459-466 (2009)

Stress induces the release of many stress mediators in the brain. Joëls and Baram show that the spatial and temporal niches of action of these mediators overlap and discuss how different mediators interact to enable appropriate responses to diverse stressors.