Researchers demonstrate why women respond better to stress
According to popular opinion, women manage stress better than men, and researchers at the University at Buffalo have found a scientific explanation for this. Senior author Zhen Yan, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, explained that they examined the molecular mechanism underlying the effect of stress on women and men. He said that the fact that women respond better to chronic stress has already been highlighted by other studies and now their study comes with an explanation for this fact.
The study, which was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, shows how female rats manage better stress than males because estrogens have a protective effect on the brain. Experiments on rats have shown that females did not have problems with memory and recognition after episodes of physical stress while males, which were exposed to the same type of stress, had disturbances in short-term memory. Stressors that researchers used were challenging and stressful, such as working under pressure, which, in general, in humans, determine a sense of frustration.
These memory impairment is due to disturbances in prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the brain region involved in the processes of thinking, memory, attention, emotions, decision-making, etc.. The disability to recognize familiar objects appears due to disturbances in glutamate receptor signaling pathway in the prefrontal cortex. There have been studies that have shown that in young men, repeated stress lead to loss of glutamate receptor. The study led by researchers at the University at Buffalo shows that glutamate receptor in the prefrontal cortex is not affected in females and suggests that it is a target for stress, in other words the glutamate receptor mediates stress response.
What is interesting is that the researchers were able to manipulate the amount of estrogens in the brain and in this way could make that females react to stress as males do, and vice versa. Yan explained that when estrogen signaling in the female brain was blocked, stress has negative effects on them. When estrogen signaling was activated in males, the negative effects of stress were blocked. It appears that aromatase, the enzyme that forms estradiol (female hormone) in the brain is responsible for female stress resilience. “If we could find compounds similar to estrogen that could be administered without causing hormonal side effects, they could prove to be a very effective treatment for stress-related problems in males,” Yan said.