Short-Term Stress & Genes

Genetic changes can occur as quickly as ten minutes after a short term stressor

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Short-term stressors can make it hard for the brain to absorb feel-good hormones. What if people are always facing a lot of short-term stressors?

A recent study found changes in an important gene after fake job interviews and math tests.

Researchers suggested that enough acute stressors could affect long-term health.

"Take a few minutes to de-stress."

Gunther Meinlschmidt, PhD, from the Clinic of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the LWL University Hospital at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, looked at the way acute, or short-term, stress alters genes.

Previous research has shown that chronic or long-term stress can alter genes.

This study looked at changes in the oxytocin receptor gene and the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) after short-term stress.

Oxytocin receptors receive the feel-good neurotransmitter oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that has been referred to as the “love hormone”, “trust hormone” and anti-stress hormone”.

This is because oxytocin is released in the brain during sexual intercourse, breast-feeding and other times of bonding or empathy.

Oxytocin creates a natural high that can also combat stress and anxiety.

BDNF is necessary for nerve growth and connecting brain cells.

For the study, 76 people were asked to go on fake job interviews and do math problems while someone was watching.

Blood samples were taken before the tests, 10 minutes after and 90 minutes after.

The results showed that the stress tests did not affect the biological switch that operates BDNF gene production.

The results showed that the first stress test altered the oxytocin receptor gene after 10 minutes.

After 90 minutes the biological switch that triggers formation of the oxytocin receptor gene was below baseline levels.

Dr. Meinlschmidt said, “The results provide evidence how stress could be related to a higher risk of mental or physical illness.”

“This could provide information on new approaches to treatment and prevention.”

This study was published in August in Translational Psychiatry. Funding was provided by the German Research Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation, no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 22, 2012
Last Updated:
August 26, 2012