Emotional arousal influences the consolidation of long-term memory. This review discusses experimental approaches and relevant findings that provide the foundation for current understanding of coordinated interactions between arousal activated peripheral hormones and the brain processes that modulate memory formation. Rewarding or aversive experiences release the stress hormones epinephrine (adrenalin) and glucocorticoids from the adrenal glands into the bloodstream. The effect of these hormones on memory consolidation depends upon binding of norepinephrine to beta-adrenergic receptors in the basolateral complex of the amygdala (BLA). Much evidence indicates that the stress hormones influence release of norepinephrine in the BLA through peripheral actions on the vagus nerve which stimulates, through polysynaptic connections, cells of the locus coeruleus to release norepinephrine. The BLA influences memory storage by actions on synapses, distributed throughout the brain, that are engaged in sensory and cognitive processing at the time of amygdala activation. The implications of the activation of these stress-activated memory processes are discussed in relation to stress-related memory disorders.
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