Stress affects the brain directly

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University researchers discovered direct effects of the stress hormone cortisol

Stress apparently affects brain information processing much faster than previously thought. Scientists at the University of Trier have discovered that the stress hormone cortisol has an effect on the thalamus that occurs immediately after stress.

So far, the assumption was that the effects of the cortisol only appear 20 minutes after stress. But the stress hormone works much faster than expected, report the researchers led by psychobiologist Prof. Dr. Hartmut Schächinger from the University of Trier. Stress could "have a far greater impact on perception and information processing in humans than previously assumed," said the Trier University on Tuesday.

Stress hormone with a direct influence on cognitive processing In cooperation with the Trier Brothers' Hospital, the researchers at the University of Trier were able to demonstrate for the first time "a rapid effect of the stress hormone cortisol on the thalamus", explained Prof. Hartmut Schächinger. The thalamus is responsible for many cognitive processes such as attention and information processing, so that an immediate effect of stress on these cognitive processes can also be expected. The psychobiological phenomenon of stress is accompanied by various physiological and cognitive reactions, although it was previously known that a stress reaction released cortisol into the bloodstream within minutes, but the assumption was that this release was only relatively slow in the brain. Earlier studies came to the conclusion that the "molecular biological processes triggered by cortisol can only lead to specific functional changes in the cells after 20 minutes at the earliest", explained the researchers at the University of Trier. Therefore, an influence of the stress hormone cortisol on the immediate cognitive processing of the event that triggered the stress was considered impossible.

Cortisol causes functional changes in the brain within minutes However, the scientists led by Prof. Hartmut Schächinger have now found that cortisol triggers functional changes in the brain within a few minutes. This has an impact on people's perception and attention. Several independent studies have shown that cortisol causes functional changes in the thalamus within minutes, which means that stress affects information processing in the human brain much faster than previously thought, explained the psychobiologists at the University of Trier. The thalamus has a significant influence on the processing of almost all perceptions and also determines the regulation of alertness and attention, the researchers explained. The effect of the cortisol promotes an advantageous adaptation of the individual to the stressful situation. The stress hormone does have an immediate "influence on the cognitive processing of the stress-triggering event," the Trier scientists emphasized. (fp)

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