Understanding depression and anxiety
Understanding depression and anxiety

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Understanding depression and anxiety

4.6 Stress, depression and neurogenesis in the hippocampus

Duman et al. (1997, 1999) suggested that the development of depression was likely to involve processes that affected plasticity in the brain. Plasticity essentially means remodeling. Several brain areas including the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are likely to be affected, but Duman and his colleagues focused their research on the hippocampus for a number of reasons. First, it had been discovered in the 1990s that, unusually for a structure in the adult human brain, the hippocampus continues to exhibit neurogenesis, making it a good candidate for the study of any changes in neurogenesis associated with depression or antidepressant treatment.

Second, there is evidence to suggest that neurogenesis in the hippocampus is highly susceptible to the effects of stress: especially when severe or prolonged, stress can inhibit neurogenesis and accelerate cell loss in the hippocampus. This effect appears to be due in large part to the effects of hormones such as cortisol (a glucocorticoid) that are overproduced by the adrenal gland during situations of chronic stress (Activity 6).

Third, as we also considered there is evidence that stress and stressful events are important in triggering clinical depression (Kendler et al., 1999), and that depression in humans is associated with hyperactivity of the stress system.

Putting these pieces of the jigsaw together, current thinking is that stress, via the effects of glucocorticoid hormones, leads to a decline in hippocampal function (through some combination of decline in hippocampal neurogenesis and increase in hippocampal atrophy), and that hippocampal dysfunction is linked to some of the symptoms of depression.

  • Given what you know about the hippocampus, what kinds of symptoms of depression might be associated with hippocampal atrophy?

  • Impairments of some kinds of conscious memory, such as recollection of facts: the hippocampus plays a central part in memory processes supporting such memories.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371