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Maturing Brain Overturns Function Of Amygdala In Regulating Stress Hormones

Update Date: Aug 21, 2014 09:55 AM EDT

Amygdala has an inhibitory effect on stress hormones during the early development of nonhuman primates, according to a new study. 

Amygdala is a region of the brain that plays significant role in generating responses to threatening situations and learning about threats. Alterations in the amygdala might lead to psychiatric disorders like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder,  schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder.

"Our findings fit into an emerging theme in neuroscience research: that during childhood, there is a switch in amygdala function and connectivity with other brain regions, particularly the prefrontal cortex," said Mar Sanchez, PhD, neuroscience researcher at Yerkes and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, in the press release. The first author of the paper is postdoctoral fellow Jessica Raper, PhD.

Earlier reports had found that as infants, monkeys with amygdala damage leads to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The result contrasted with previous researches that showed that amygdala damage results in lower levels of cortisol. 

"We wanted to examine whether the alterations in stress hormones seen during infancy persisted, and what brain changes were responsible for them," Sanchez says. "In studies of adults, the amygdala and its connections are fully formed at the time of the manipulation, but here neither the amygdala or its connections were fully matured when the damage occurred."

Findings of the study have been published in Journal of Neuroscience.

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