New research identifies gene targets of stress hormones in t
Chronic stress is a well-known cause of mental health disorders. New research has moved a step forward in understanding how glucocorticoid hormones ('stress hormones') act upon the brain and what their function is. The findings could lead to more effective strategies in the prevention and treatment of mental health disorders.

The study published in Nature Communications, has discovered a link between corticosteroid receptors—the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) and the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) - and ciliary and neuroplasticity genes in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in stress coping and learning and memory.

The study combined advanced next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics, and pathway analysis technologies to enable a greater understanding of glucocorticoid hormone action, via MRs and GRs, on gene activity in the hippocampus.

The researchers found a previously unknown link between the MR and cilia function. Effective cilia function is vitally important for brain development and ongoing brain plasticity.

The discovery of the novel role of MR in cilia structure and function concerning neuronal development has increased knowledge of the role of these cell structures in the brain and could help resolve cilia-related (developmental) disorders in the future.

The team also found that MR and GR interact with many genes which are involved in neuroplasticity processes, such as neuron-to-neuron communication and learning and memory processes. However, some of these genes have been linked to the development of mental health disorders like major depression, anxiety, PTSD, and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Consequently, as observed in chronic stress, glucocorticoid hormone dysfunction could harm mental health through their action on these vulnerability genes, providing a potential new mechanism to explain the long-known involvement of glucocorticoids in the etiology of mental health disorders.

"This research is a substantial step forward in our efforts to understand how these powerful glucocorticoid hormones act upon the brain and what their function is."