Why Stress Could Be Your Enemy: Stressed Individuals May Take Risky Decisions

It’s always hard to take a decision especially if the decision may significantly affect your personal life/career/relationships etc.

MIT neuroscientists discovered an interesting correlation between stress and decision-making process in mice.

They found that the stressed species were more likely to choose high-risk options compared to “just fine”, relaxed ones.

As the research says this kind of behavior is associated with a specific brain circuit and what is the most interesting, the behavior can be restored to normal by manipulating this particular circuit.

It means that if a method of manipulating the circuit is found in humans, it could help patients with such conditions as depression, addiction, anxiety etc. And probably can become the first-line method for treating these diseases.

Ann Graybiel, an Institute Professor at MIT says:

One exciting thing is that by doing this very basic science, we found a microcircuit of neurons in the striatum that we could manipulate to reverse the effects of stress on this type of decision making. This to us is extremely promising, but we are aware that so far these experiments are in rats and mice

The scientists assume that the circuit holds and integrates the information about “good” and “bad” decision so it helps animals to take s specific decision when a situation requires so.

In common, non-stressful state of the brain, the circuit is turned on and neurons of the prefrontal cortex activate another type of neurons called high-firing interneurons, as a result, this activity does suppress striosomes or striatal patches (chemical compartments within the striatum).

But when an animal is highly stressed (the circuit is turned off) striosomes are not restrained which leads to deviations in the decision-making process.

The effects of such “switch” may last for a month – which is another interesting finding, but using optogenetics helped to restore normal activity of high-firing interneurons, suppress striosomes and bring the normal behavior back.

This practice demonstrates, in fact, that this is a reversible state and that it could be used for medical purposes in the context of mental disorders indicated above.

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