Although previous studies have indicated that chronic stress can have negative consequences for the brain, new research indicates it can lead to permanent brain damage, potentially increasing the risk for mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.
Georg Juckel, MD, PhD, of Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany, and colleagues say that stress damages the body’s immune system, and in turn, that can have negative consequences for the brain. For example, immune cells migrate to the brain, and local immune cells carry out various tasks there, including disposing of damaged synapses.
Juckel and his team looked at specific cell type, microglia, that are responsible for repairing damage between the brain’s nerve cells. While microglia normally serve a positive role, when it becomes overly activated due to stress, it can turn destructive, damaging nerve cells and triggering an inflammatory response, they write in the journal Rubin. And that response increases the risk for mental disorders.
“We see this very clearly in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer's,” Juckel wrote. “The brain areas affected by inflammation or neurodegeneration are surrounded by a circle of microglial cells.”
They also found that in patients with schizophrenia, the number of microglial cells is considerably higher than in healthy individuals. But in this case, the abundance of the cells causes synaptic links between neurons to degenerate, reducing gray matter in the brain.
Previous studies have shown that chronic stress can damage the brain. It can exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions, cause foggy-memory and even increase the risk of certain behavioral health issues.
Now, recent findings published in the journal Rubin show that chronic stress can actually be linked to permanent brain damage, increasing the risk of certain mental health problems, such as schizophrenia.
Lead study author Georg Juckel, MD, PhD, and researchers at LWL University clinic at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, examined certain types of phagoctyes, particularly microglia.
These phagocytes normally help to repair synapses between nerve cells in the brain as well as stimulate their growth, activation of microglia that nerve cells and trigger inflammation.