Shifting the Stress Curve

Pam Litvak (Biology) and Gregg Morrow (Public Health and Wellness)

“Shifting the Stress Curve:” Using “Stress Inoculation” and Exercise to Promote Resilience

Effective coping mechanisms for stress can create stepping--‐stones toward greater emotional endurance. Alternatively, ineffective coping mechanisms can produce roadblocks that make future stress harder to bear. The experiments outlined in this proposal will explore two stress coping mechanisms that may promote resilience toward future stress rather than vulnerability. The first coping mechanism, the “stress inoculation hypothesis”, suggests that prior exposure to moderate stress enhances our ability to deal with new stress. This coping mechanism will be explored in a new rat model of psychological stress, developed by Pam Litvak’s collaborator at Stony Brook University. In Experiment #1, we will expose rats to 21 days of unpredictable but controllable stress, then compare their performance to control rats on a behavioral flexibility task thought to be dependent on the prefrontal cortex. The second coping mechanism will be explored in a collaborative, interdepartmental study between Pam Litvak and Gregg Morrow. Regular participation in exercise, although considered physically stressful, is beneficial for brain structure and function and may even alleviate stress--‐induced damage. Experiment #2 will assess the relationship between physical fitness and strategies used in a learning task in young, college--‐aged adults. Together, these experiments take advantage of the strengths of both animal and human--‐ based studies in an effort to pursue translational research goals. Translational research (the application of basic research findings to enhance human health and well--‐being) is currently a high priority for federal sponsors such as the National Institutes of Health.

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