This is the first study of its kind to establish the relationship between short-term memory and prolonged stress. In the case of the mice, that meant repeat visits from a larger, nasty intruder mouse. Sustained stress erodes memory, and the immune system plays a key role in the cognitive impairment, according to a new study from researchers at The Ohio State University.
Mice that were repeatedly exposed to the aggressive intruder had a hard time recalling where the escape hole was in a maze they’d mastered prior to the stressful period.
They also had measurable changes in their brains, including evidence of inflammation brought on by the immune system’s response to the outside pressure. This was associated with the presence of immune cells, called macrophages, in the brain of the stressed mice.
The research team was able to pin the short-term memory loss on the inflammation, and on the immune system. Their work, which appears in The Journal of Neuroscience , builds on previous research substantiating the connections between chronic stress and lasting anxiety.
The work in mice could one day lead to treatment for repeated, long-term mental assault such as that sustained by bullying victims, soldiers and those who report to beastly bosses, the researchers say.
The researchers’ work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.