Read the latest from Karina Alviña

By Danielle Houghton

UF neuroscientist, Dr. Karina Alviña who specializes in the neurobiology of stress, takes part in newly released review from the Journal of Neuroscience Research on the long terms effects of stress on hippocampal function, specifically with emphasis on early life stress paradigms and potential involvement of neuropeptide Y.

Alviña says, “this research opens many possibilities to further understand how our brain deals with stressful stimuli, which are common to all of us.”

Neuropeptide (NPY) is responsible for stimulating food intake and known for causing a craving for carbohydrates particularly. With the brain being the central point in both stress responses and/or lack thereof, the research aims at finding mechanisms by which stress can exert its detrimental effects on neurotransmission.

The hippocampus is a major target of stress mediators and plays an essential role in memory encoding and retrieval, functions that are vulnerable to stress. Specific hippocampal circuits analyzed in the research are important in maintaining the excitation/inhibition balance, influenced by the production of neuropeptide Y (NPY). Using rodent models of early life stress (ELS), this study examines NPY’s as role in mediating stress-induced changes in hippocampal function.

Alviña further explains this significance saying, “what is exciting is that these cells are already involved in counteracting deleterious epileptic activity in the hippocampus, and we reviewed extensive literature that supports the idea that similar mechanisms can confer resistance to stress.” This is important when studying these “resilience molecules” (for example, NPY) that could be “potentially used as therapeutic avenues to prevent or diminish the nefarious effects of stress,” notes Alviña.

Findings suggest long-lasting effects of ELS might stem from the loss of given NPY cells, which may then lead to various behavioral deficits.

Alviña says the importance of this research to the general public lies in the fact that “everyone is exposed to stress in different forms and degrees.” She explains, “stress can trigger and/or exacerbate many neuropsychiatric and neurological conditions. Therefore, it is important to know how our brain responds to these challenges so we know what mechanisms and pathways can be used as possible therapeutics.”

Alviña looks forward to understanding more about how the brain handles stress. In today’s time specifically, Alviña says this research is “even more relevant now when people are dealing with chronic stress and uncertainty due to the COVID19 pandemic.”

Read Full Paper in PubMed.