Stress, memory, and the hippocampus

Front Neurol Neurosci. 2014;34:109-20. doi: 10.1159/000356423. Epub 2014 Apr 16.


Stress hormones, i.e. cortisol in human and cortisone in rodents, influence a wide range of cognitive functions, including hippocampus-based declarative memory performance. Cortisol enhances memory consolidation, but impairs memory retrieval. In this context glucocorticoid receptor sensitivity and hippocampal integrity play an important role. This review integrates findings on the relationships between the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, one of the main coordinators of the stress response, hippocampus, and memory. Findings obtained in healthy participants will be compared with selected mental disorders, including major depressive disorder (MDD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD). These disorders are characterized by alterations of the HPA axis and hippocampal dysfunctions. Interestingly, the acute effects of stress hormones on memory in psychiatric patients are different from those found in healthy humans. While cortisol administration has failed to affect memory retrieval in patients with MDD, patients with PTSD and BPD have been found to show enhanced rather than impaired memory retrieval after hydrocortisone. This indicates an altered sensitivity to stress hormones in these mental disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Borderline Personality Disorder / physiopathology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology