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"Trigger" for stress processes discovered in the brain

(Vienna, 27th November) At the Center for Brain Research at the MedUni Vienna an important factor for stress has been identified in collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (Sweden). This is the protein secretagogin that plays an important role in the release of the stress hormone CRH and which only then enables stress processes in the brain to be transmitted to the pituitary gland and then onwards to the organs. A current study on this has now been published in the top journal, the "EMBO Journal".

"If, however, the formation of secretagogin, a calcium-binding protein, is suppressed, then CRH (= Corticotropin Releasing Hormone) cannot be released in the hypothalamus of the brain thus preventing the triggering of stress processes in the body," explains Tibor Harkany of the Department of Molecular Neurosciences at the MedUni Vienna.

The hypothalamus requires the assistance of CRH to stimulate the production and release of the hormone ACTH from cells in the pituitary gland into the blood. Thus this hormone reaches the adrenal cortex and once there stimulates the production and release of further hormones including, among others, cortisol, a vital stress hormone. In stress situations the hypothalamus gives the signal to release CRH and thus also ACTH and cortisol. However, if this cycle is interrupted, it is not possible for acute, and therefore chronic, stress to arise.

Another interesting fact: secretagogin was discovered at the MedUni Vienna – this was in fact 15 years ago by Ludwig Wagner at the University Department of Internal Medicine III in connection with research on the pancreas.

Therapeutic approach for chronic stress

"Now we have a better understanding of how stress is generated," says Tomas Hökfelt of the Karolinska Institutet and guest professor at the MedUni Vienna. This could result in a further development where secretagogin is deployed as a tool to treat chronic stress, perhaps on people suffering from mental illness such as depression or burn out, but also in cases of chronic stress brought on by pain. This is because only chronic stress is harmful. If a rapid recovery phase follows a period of stress, body and mind are restored to "normal working" once more without increased release of stress hormones.
In contrast, the consequences of chronic stress are manifold and can, for example, lead to an increased tendency to suffer from infections but also to high blood pressure, diabetes and an increased risk of cardio-vascular disease right through to chronic headaches, tinnitus or osteoporosis.

Illnesses resulting from stress are becoming more frequent and are placing a burden on the health care system. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has therefore dedicated 2014 to the subject of stress. According to the Austrian employees' organisation, international studies show that in Europe over 50 percent of sick leave is attributable to a form of stress. In a recent analysis by the Austrian Economic Research Institute, IWS, a figure of seven billion Euros a year was placed on the economic damage due to mental illness in Austria.

Five research clusters at the MedUni Vienna 
A total of five research clusters have been set up at the MedUni Vienna in which the MedUni Vienna is increasing its focus in the fields of fundamental and clinical research. The research clusters include medical imaging, cancer research / oncology, cardiovascular medicine, immunology and medical neurosciences. The present work falls in terms of its content within the remit of medical neurosciences.

Service: EMBO Journal

"A secretagogin locus of the mammalian hypothalamus controls stress hormone release." R. Romanov, A. Alpar, M.D. Zhang, A. Zeisel, A. Calas, M. Landry, M. Fuszard, S. Shirran, R.Schnell, A. Dobolyi, M. Olah, L. Spence, J. Mulder, H. Martens, M. Palkovits, M. Uhlen, H. Sitte, C. Botting, L. Wagner, S. Linnarsson, T. Hökfelt, T. Harkany. DOI 10.15252/ embj.201488977, October 2014.


Medical University of Vienna - Summary profile

The Medical University of Vienna (abbreviation: MedUni Vienna) is one of Europe’s medical training and research facilities with the greatest history and tradition. Counting almost 7,500 students, it is today the largest medical training facility in the German-speaking region. With its 27 university departments, 12 medical-theoretical centres and numerous highly specialised laboratories, it also ranks amongst the most significant cutting-edge research institutions in Europe in the biomedical sector. Over 48,000 square metres of space have been dedicated to clinical research at the facility.


Karolinska Institutet - Summary profile

Karolinska Institutet is one of the world's leading medical universities. It accounts for over 40 per cent of the medical academic research conducted in Sweden and offers the country's broadest range of education in medicine and health sciences. Since 1901 the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has selected the Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine.
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