Researchers from the Faculty of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences of the University of Chile were able to confirm the existence of differences in responses to chronic stress (CS) according to sex, in addition to baseline cognitive differences, a study published in the journal Neurobiology of Stress .

The findings were made thanks to the observation of the behavior of male and female rats when exposed to the same stressful stimulus, a phenomenon that may be key to improving therapies and interventions in patients with neuropsychiatric disorders.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), about 208 million people suffer from depression worldwide.

In the case of Chile, the Center for Studies on Conflict and Social Cohesion (COES) indicated that during 2021, 27% of women presented moderate to severe depressive symptoms, while men reached 9.6%.

It is in this context that the study led by the biochemist and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Jenny Fiedler, raises some answers about the particularities of mood disorders in men and women.

The research, financed by the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (Fondecyt) and supported by the Vice-Rector for Research and Development (VID), aims to identify molecular targets involved in maladaptive responses to chronic stress (SC) in male and female rats. .

These comparisons can reveal pathways that regulate the functioning of the hippocampus and responses of susceptibility and/or resilience according to sex before the same stressor.

Fiedler highlighted the progress made within the framework of this project. “It has been a privilege to be able to share experiences with my students by being part of a collaborative team where we have learned that the important thing is to have a critical attitude, to take on new intellectual and experimental challenges in an environment of freedom and respect”, stated the researcher.

Research Findings

With the participation of academics from the University of Chile, the Catholic University of Maule, the Andres Bello University and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the United States, the project has made it possible to evaluate the differential effects of biological sex in the hippocampus.

“Female and male rats present baseline cognitive differences that are differentially modified when subjected to stress”, Professor Fiedler highlights this work.

The academic explained that understanding the complexity of these baseline differences between males and females would allow “improving treatments and/or creating new methods of intervention in neuropsychiatric diseases, such as depression and anxiety, which have almost twice the prevalence in women and are closely related to stress (psychosocial stress)”.

He also specified that more specific therapies could be designed for other diseases based on biological sex. This through, for example, the emulation of certain beneficial characteristics in response to a disorder or pathology with the use of drugs.

To arrive at this and other results that, in general terms, confirm the existence of differences in the responses to chronic stress according to sex, the team observed how the genes associated with certain cell types change once they are faced with stress.

“This study focused on a portion of the rat brain, which is the hippocampus, which corresponds to the oldest cortex from an evolutionary point of view. This region, in particular, is very important in the mechanisms associated with learning. This structure also puts the brakes on a hormonal axis that is related to stress responses”, explained Professor Fiedler.

“We know that men and women face daily stressors (…) and how our brain encodes those stressors and how it responds, it seems, according to the data we have obtained, is different between males and females, and that is by no means It can predispose to certain neuropsychiatric pathologies”.

From a biological point of view, the differentiation between men and women is commonly attributed to the production of sex hormones. However, for Fiedler, these observed baseline differences may be related to something beyond hormone production, the true background being still an object of study.

That is why, following this line of research, the team from the Faculty of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences applied to the Fondecyt 2023 contest to continue their research work and determine the occurrence of changes in the transcriptome in specific regions of the hippocampus.


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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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