Researchers Identify Brain Circuits that Help People Cope with Stress
NIH-supported research has identified brain patterns in humans that appear to underlie “resilient coping,” the healthy emotional and behavioral responses to stress that help some people handle stressful situations better than others.
People encounter stressful situations and stimuli everywhere, every day, and studies have shown that long-term stress can contribute to a broad array of health problems. However, some people cope with stress better than others and scientists have long wondered why. The new study, by a team of researchers at Yale University, is now online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This important finding points to specific brain adaptations that predict resilient responses to stress,” said Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a supporter of the study. “The findings also indicate that we might be able to predict maladaptive stress responses that contribute to excessive drinking, anger and other unhealthy reactions to stress.”
In a study of human volunteers, scientists led by Dr. Rajita Sinha and Dr. Dongju Seo used a brain scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure localized changes in brain activation during stress.
In addition to NIAAA, the study was supported by the NIH Common Fund, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
New Medication Shows Promise Against Liver Fibrosis
A new drug developed by scientists at NIAAA limits the progression of liver fibrosis in mice, a hopeful advance against a condition for which there is no current treatment and that often leads to serious liver disease in people with chronic alcoholism and other common diseases.
“This study represents an important step towards an effective treatment for liver fibrosis,” said NIAAA director Dr. George Koob. A report of the study is now online in JCI Insight.
Liver fibrosis is a gradual scarring of the liver that puts people at risk for progressive liver disease and liver failure. It may develop as a late consequence of chronic alcoholism, viral hepatitis, obesity or diabetes and can progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer, yet currently there is no therapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The new compound is a chemically modified version of ibipinapant, a brain-penetrating cannabinoid type 1 (CB-1) receptor antagonist used in scientific research. Senior author and NIAAA scientific director Dr. George Kunos’ team modified its structure to reduce its ability tpenetrate the brain and to include a molecular group that directly inhibits iNOS, the enzyme responsible for generating nitrogen compounds that promote inflammation.
“Fibrosis is a multifactorial, complex disorder that can benefit from simultaneous targeting of more than one cellular process,” Kunos explained.
Kunos and his NIAAA team developed a new medication that concurrently inhibits both CB-1 receptors and iNOS. The new compound was designed to have only very limited ability to enter the brain in order to avoid the psychiatric side effects that limit the usefulness of currently available, brain-penetrant CB-1 receptor-blocking compounds.
Connectome Map More Than Doubles Human Cortex’s Known Regions
Researchers have mapped 180 distinct areas in our brain’s outer mantle, or cortex—more than twice the number previously known. They have also developed software that automatically detects the “fingerprint” of each of these areas in an individual’s brain scans. Funded by NIH through its Human Connectome Project, this software correctly mapped the areas by incorporating data from multiple non-invasive brain imaging measures that corroborated each other.
“These new insights and tools should help to explain how our cortex evolved and the roles of its specialized areas in health and disease and could eventually hold promise for unprecedented precision in brain surgery and clinical work-ups,” said Dr. Bruce Cuthbert, acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which co-funded the research as part of the HCP.
The new study identified—with a nearly 97 percent detection rate—97 new cortex areas per hemisphere, in addition to confirming 83 that were previously known.
NIMH grantees Dr. David Van Essen and Dr. Matthew Glasser, both of Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues at six other research centers, reported on their discoveries July 20 in the journal Nature.