Stress plays a major role in several disorders, and the neurotransmitter systems and brain structures that are altered by stress have been implicated in a variety of psychological disorders. Thus, assessment of the effects of stress on these neurotransmitter systems and structures may have important implications for the causes and prevention of these disorders. Prefrontal cortex is a target for hormones involved in the stress response and has been implicated in disorders such as schizophrenia and depression that are exacerbated or precipitated by stress. Thus, understanding the effects of stress on prefrontal cortex is critical for understanding the influence of stress on psychopathology.
My lab is examining the effects of chronic stress and stress hormones on behaviors mediated by prefrontal cortex, as well as the changes in neural pharmacology and morphology that underlie these effects. We have demonstrated that both chronic stress and exposure to the stress hormone corticosterone reorganize dendrites of neurons in prefrontal cortex. We are now beginning to more fully characterize these effects, assess their functional significance, and elucidate mechanisms underlying them.