Stress Neurobiology Program



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The long-term goal of the Stress Neurobiology Research Program is to understand why some individuals are vulnerable or resilient to the potentially adverse effects of chronic stress. Chronic stress is a critical factor contributing to the development of affective and anxiety disorders and can precipitate relapse of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This intimate association between repeated/chronic stress and affective and anxiety disorders underscores the need to understand fully the neural circuitry that regulates the physiological and behavioral consequences of repeated stress.

The Stress Neurobiology Research Program seeks to define the neural substrates that promote resilience to the detrimental/pathological effects of stressful life events. Activation of neural, endocrine, and behavioral responses to stress is necessary for survival. However, with repeated exposure to stress, activation of these responses becomes maladaptive and drives the etiology or progression of affective disorders and anxiety disorders including PTSD.

Thus, one branch of the research program focuses on defining the neural substrates that permit adaptation to repeated stress. However, only some stressed individuals are vulnerable to developing stress-related illness while others are resilient. The second branch of the Stress Neurobiology Research Program involves investigating the factors that contribute to vulnerability in certain individuals and resilience in others. The researchers are also intensively engaged in collaborations with clinicians to translate findings from animal models into human subjects undergoing various types of challenges.

The overarching goals of our research program are to:

  • Define the neural circuits that promote resilience to the effects of stress across the lifespan
  • Promote the training and development of researchers in stress neurobiology
  • Serve as a resource for information and technical assistance to researchers interested in the effects of stress as part of their research program
  • Foster collaboration with clinical researchers in order to translate the preclinical data into human populations

Project Highlights

  • Examining inflammatory processes and vascular remodeling in limbic structures as substrates for vulnerability or resilience to stress between males and females and across the lifespan
  • Investigating the role of orexins/hypocretins in sex differences in adaptations to repeated stress
  • Examining network activity in limbic regions important for habituation to stress and coherence in activity across these regions in freely moving animals
  • Investigating molecular and network mechanisms underlying habituation to repeated stress in the paraventricular thalamic nucleus (PVT)
  • Examining biomarkers of resilience and vulnerability in human populations undergoing stress (sleep loss or combat exposure)
Seema Bhatnagar

Seema Bhatnagar, PhD

Dr. Bhatnagar's research aims to further the understanding of the neural basis of individual differences in response to stressful experiences. This includes identifying neural substrates that produce resiliency or vulnerability to the effects of stress and determining treatments to mitigate vulnerability and to promote resiliency through both preclinical and translational studies.