Scientists say that even brief exposure to stress can cause memory loss

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Do you have trouble remembering things? Your problem might have something to do with the stressful lifestyle you are leading. According to a recent study, when someone is undergoing stress, a part of their brain shrinks and eventually might lead to memory loss.

The study showed that shrinking of hippocampus (the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory) would eventually lead to behavioral changes, namely loss of memory.

“Until now, no one actually knew the evolution of these changes. Does the hippocampus shrink before or after memory loss? Or do the two happen hand-in-hand,” said Sumantra Chattarji, Professor at National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru, Karnataka, in a statement.

The research was carried out taking rats as subjects as they react to stress very similar to the way humans do. The scientists studied the changes in brain structure during this condition.

The rats were subjected to stress every two hours every day over 10 days. The changes in brain structure were examined with an MRI scan, over the course of study. Findings showed conclusive evidence that the hippocampus of every stressed rat shrunk within three days of the study.

“Normally structural changes are seen in the brain after a long time — say 10 to 20 days. Three days doesn’t even count as chronic stress,” Chattarji added.

Post 5 days of exposure to stress, the rats were tested again. Surprisingly the stressed rats performed almost as well as unstressed rats in memory tests, despite the shrinking of  hippocampus. However, at the of the study, the shrinkage had further progressed and the stressed rats performed poorly in a different test.   

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