"Trigger" for stress processes discovered in the brain

Posted on November 28, 2014

Photo: flickr

At the Center for Brain Research at the MedUni Vienna an important factor for stress has been identified in collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (Sweden). This is the protein secretagogin that plays an important role in the release of the stress hormone CRH and which only then enables stress processes in the brain to be transmitted to the pituitary gland and then onwards to the organs.

"If, however, the formation of secretagogin, a calcium-binding protein, is suppressed, then CRH (= Corticotropin Releasing Hormone) cannot be released in the hypothalamus of the brain thus preventing the triggering of stress processes in the body," explains Tibor Harkany of the Department of Molecular Neurosciences at the MedUni Vienna.

The hypothalamus requires the assistance of CRH to stimulate the production and release of the hormone ACTH from cells in the pituitary gland into the blood. Thus this hormone reaches the adrenal cortex and once there stimulates the production and release of further hormones including, among others, cortisol, a vital stress hormone. In stress situations the hypothalamus gives the signal to release CRH and thus also ACTH and cortisol. However, if this cycle is interrupted, it is not possible for acute, and therefore chronic, stress to arise.

"Now we have a better understanding of how stress is generated," says Tomas Hökfelt of the Karolinska Institutet and guest professor at the MedUni Vienna. This could result in a further development where secretagogin is deployed as a tool to treat chronic stress, perhaps on people suffering from mental illness such as depression or burn out, but also in cases of chronic stress brought on by pain. This is because only chronic stress is harmful. If a rapid recovery phase follows a period of stress, body and mind are restored to "normal working" once more without increased release of stress hormones.

In contrast, the consequences of chronic stress are manifold and can, for example, lead to an increased tendency to suffer from infections but also to high blood pressure, diabetes and an increased risk of cardio-vascular disease right through to chronic headaches, tinnitus or osteoporosis.

Illnesses resulting from stress are becoming more frequent and are placing a burden on the health care system. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has therefore dedicated 2014 to the subject of stress. According to the Austrian employees' organisation, international studies show that in Europe over 50 percent of sick leave is attributable to a form of stress. In a recent analysis by the Austrian Economic Research Institute, IWS, a figure of seven billion Euros a year was placed on the economic damage due to mental illness in Austria.

Category(s):Stress Management

Source material from Medical University if Vienna