Stress Effects on Neuronal Structure: Hippocampus, Amygdala, and Prefrontal Cortex

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 Jan;41(1):3-23. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.171. Epub 2015 Jun 16.


The hippocampus provided the gateway into much of what we have learned about stress and brain structural and functional plasticity, and this initial focus has expanded to other interconnected brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Starting with the discovery of adrenal steroid, and later, estrogen receptors in the hippocampal formation, and subsequent discovery of dendritic and spine synapse remodeling and neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus, mechanistic studies have revealed both genomic and rapid non-genomic actions of circulating steroid hormones in the brain. Many of these actions occur epigenetically and result in ever-changing patterns of gene expression, in which there are important sex differences that need further exploration. Moreover, glucocorticoid and estrogen actions occur synergistically with an increasing number of cellular mediators that help determine the qualitative nature of the response. The hippocampus has also been a gateway to understanding lasting epigenetic effects of early-life experiences. These findings in animal models have resulted in translation to the human brain and have helped change thinking about the nature of brain malfunction in psychiatric disorders and during aging, as well as the mechanisms of the effects of early-life adversity on the brain and the body.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / metabolism
  • Amygdala / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Nerve Net / pathology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology*