Stress and excitatory synapses: from health to disease

Neuroscience. 2013 Sep 17:248:626-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.05.043. Epub 2013 May 29.


Individuals are exposed to stressful events in their daily life. The effects of stress on brain function ranges from highly adaptive to increasing the risk to develop psychopathology. For example, stressful experiences are remembered well which can be seen as a highly appropriate behavioral adaptation. On the other hand, stress is an important risk factor, in susceptible individuals, for depression and anxiety. An important question that remains to be addressed is how stress regulates brain function and what determines the threshold between adaptive and maladaptive responses. Excitatory synapses play a crucial role in synaptic transmission, synaptic plasticity and behavioral adaptation. In this review we discuss how brief and prolonged exposure to stress, in adulthood and early life, regulate the function of these synapses, and how these effects may contribute to behavioral adaptation and psychopathology.

Keywords: ACTH; AMPA; ANS; CRH; CaMKII; Calcium-Calmodulin-dependent kinase II; GR; HPA-axis; LC; LG; LTD; LTP; Locus Coeruleus; MR; N-methyl-D-aspartate; NMDA; PFC; PKA; PKC; PSD; PTSD; Protein Kinase C; Protein kinase A; REST; SGK; adrenocorticotropic hormone; autonomic nervous system; corticosterone; corticotropin-releasing hormone; glucocorticoid receptor; hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis; licking grooming; long-term depression; long-term potentiation; mEPSCs; mineralocorticoid receptor; miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents; plasticity; postsynaptic density; posttraumatic stress disorder; prefrontal cortex; repressor element 1 silencing transcription factor; serum and glucocorticoid-inducible kinase; stress; synapses; α-AR; α-adrenergic receptor; α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid; β-AR; β-adrenergic receptor.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / physiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Norepinephrine / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Norepinephrine