Adolescent stress can change brain during adulthood

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Stressful events result in later changes to important brain region

Researchers found that adult rats exposed to a social stress during adolescence (ages approximating 13 to 15 years in humans) showed a significant decrease in a specific protein found in the hippocampus, a brain region important for learning and memory.  In fact, the loss of this protein, synaptophysin, is at least as great as that occurring in animals exposed to more severe stressors at a younger age, suggesting that adolescents may be more vulnerable to the effects of stress than younger animals. Under typical conditions, synaptophysin, which is often used as an index of the number of neuronal connections, or synapses, reaches a peak during young adulthood (approximately ages 18 to 20), with the rise occurring primarily during adolescence.  The team tested whether a social stress during this key developmental period might alter this pattern.  A control group of rats was housed with their peers, and an experimental group of rats was housed individually during adolescence; individual housing in normally social animals such as rats is a stressful experience.  The brains of both groups were then examined during young adulthood.  The team found that rats exposed to the social stressor did not show the normal increase in synaptophysin during this period.