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Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote well-being.

Nature neuroscience

Animals, Stress, Psychological, Social Behavior, physiology, Neuronal Plasticity, Humans, Health, Emotions, Brain Mapping, physiopathology, Brain

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      Abstract

      Experiential factors shape the neural circuits underlying social and emotional behavior from the prenatal period to the end of life. These factors include both incidental influences, such as early adversity, and intentional influences that can be produced in humans through specific interventions designed to promote prosocial behavior and well-being. Here we review important extant evidence in animal models and humans. Although the precise mechanisms of plasticity are still not fully understood, moderate to severe stress appears to increase the growth of several sectors of the amygdala, whereas the effects in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex tend to be opposite. Structural and functional changes in the brain have been observed with cognitive therapy and certain forms of meditation and lead to the suggestion that well-being and other prosocial characteristics might be enhanced through training.

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      Most cited references 89

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      Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.

      The hippocampus shrinks in late adulthood, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia. Hippocampal and medial temporal lobe volumes are larger in higher-fit adults, and physical activity training increases hippocampal perfusion, but the extent to which aerobic exercise training can modify hippocampal volume in late adulthood remains unknown. Here we show, in a randomized controlled trial with 120 older adults, that aerobic exercise training increases the size of the anterior hippocampus, leading to improvements in spatial memory. Exercise training increased hippocampal volume by 2%, effectively reversing age-related loss in volume by 1 to 2 y. We also demonstrate that increased hippocampal volume is associated with greater serum levels of BDNF, a mediator of neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus. Hippocampal volume declined in the control group, but higher preintervention fitness partially attenuated the decline, suggesting that fitness protects against volume loss. Caudate nucleus and thalamus volumes were unaffected by the intervention. These theoretically important findings indicate that aerobic exercise training is effective at reversing hippocampal volume loss in late adulthood, which is accompanied by improved memory function.
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        The cognitive control of emotion.

        The capacity to control emotion is important for human adaptation. Questions about the neural bases of emotion regulation have recently taken on new importance, as functional imaging studies in humans have permitted direct investigation of control strategies that draw upon higher cognitive processes difficult to study in nonhumans. Such studies have examined (1) controlling attention to, and (2) cognitively changing the meaning of, emotionally evocative stimuli. These two forms of emotion regulation depend upon interactions between prefrontal and cingulate control systems and cortical and subcortical emotion-generative systems. Taken together, the results suggest a functional architecture for the cognitive control of emotion that dovetails with findings from other human and nonhuman research on emotion.
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          Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: central role of the brain.

           B McEwen (2007)
          The brain is the key organ of the response to stress because it determines what is threatening and, therefore, potentially stressful, as well as the physiological and behavioral responses which can be either adaptive or damaging. Stress involves two-way communication between the brain and the cardiovascular, immune, and other systems via neural and endocrine mechanisms. Beyond the "flight-or-fight" response to acute stress, there are events in daily life that produce a type of chronic stress and lead over time to wear and tear on the body ("allostatic load"). Yet, hormones associated with stress protect the body in the short-run and promote adaptation ("allostasis"). The brain is a target of stress, and the hippocampus was the first brain region, besides the hypothalamus, to be recognized as a target of glucocorticoids. Stress and stress hormones produce both adaptive and maladaptive effects on this brain region throughout the life course. Early life events influence life-long patterns of emotionality and stress responsiveness and alter the rate of brain and body aging. The hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex undergo stress-induced structural remodeling, which alters behavioral and physiological responses. As an adjunct to pharmaceutical therapy, social and behavioral interventions such as regular physical activity and social support reduce the chronic stress burden and benefit brain and body health and resilience.
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            22534579
            10.1038/nn.3093
            3491815

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