New research by a University of Alberta neuroscientist reveals more about how the mechanism the brain uses to regulate our response to stress could lead to better treatments for anxiety. Bill Colmers and his team discovered that two chemical messengers—corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and neuropeptide Y (NPY)—work in a synchronized opposition to one another to remodel and rewire neurons in a part of the brain responsible for emotions, called the amygdala, as part of the body’s natural response to stress.
The research not only shows the change is occurring in the amygdala, but also reveals the process can be manually reversed, said Colmers. Colmers’ team observed that the body’s ability to react to a stress or threat is the result of CRF increasing the number and length of dendrites (or branches) found in neurons located in the amygdala. The lengthening and expansion of the neural network allows the brain to increase its signaling power and trigger the rest of the body to get ready to respond.