, 1996). These increases in catecholamine release can have rapid and pervasive effects on brain physiology, impairing the functions of the PFC while further strengthening amygdala actions, thus setting up a vicious cycle (reviewed below). Early studies in animals showed that exposure to even a mild uncontrollable stressor, e.g. loud white noise, can rapidly impair the working memory functions of the PFC in monkeys and rodents (Fig. 2; Arnsten and Goldman-Rakic, 1998 and Arnsten, ZD1839 purchase 1998). A key aspect of this effect of stress is that the subject feels that they do not have control over
the stressor (Amat et al., 2006). Intriguingly, the PFC can turn off the stress response if it considers that the subject has control over the situation (Amat et al., 2006). Loss of dlPFC working memory function during uncontrollable stress also can be seen in humans, e.g. where exposure to an upsetting, violent film impaired working memory performance and reduced the dlPFC BOLD response (Qin et al.,
BYL719 2009) and theta band activity (Gärtner et al., 2014). Impairments in working memory have even been seen in Special Forces soldiers under conditions of stress exposure (Morgan et al., 2006). Acute uncontrollable stress exposure also weakens PFC self-control and contributes to substance abuse (Sinha and Li, 2007). In contrast to the PFC, uncontrollable stressors such as upsetting images increase the ability of the amygdala to enhance consolidation of the memory of the stressful event, a mechanism that has been documented in both animals and humans (Cahill and McGaugh, 1996). Stress may also accentuate the fear-conditioning operations of the amygdala (Rodrigues et al., 2009). This flip from reflective (PFC) to reflexive (amygdala) Farnesyltransferase brain state has to be very
rapid, e.g. in response to a sudden danger. However, prolonged stress can have even more marked effects on brain physiology. With chronic stress, there are additional architectural changes that further exaggerate the switch from highly evolved to more primitive brain circuits. Studies in rodents have shown that sustained stress exposure induces loss of dendrites and spines in the PFC (Seib and Wellman, 2003, Liston et al., 2006, Radley et al., 2005 and Shansky et al., 2009). The loss of spines and/or dendrites correlates with impaired working memory (Hains et al., 2009) and weaker attentional flexibility (Liston et al., 2006), suggesting that there are functional consequences to loss of dendrites and their connections. In young rodents, PFC dendrites can regrow with sufficient time spent under safe conditions, but there is less plasticity in the aged PFC (Bloss et al., 2011). In contrast to the PFC, chronic stress increases dendritic growth in the amygdala (Vyas et al., 2002), thus accentuating the imbalance of amygdala over PFC function.