Acute Psychological Stress Reduces Working Memory-Related Activity in the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex

Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
Biological psychiatry (Impact Factor: 10.26). 05/2009; 66(1):25-32. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.03.006
Source: PubMed


Acute psychological stress impairs higher-order cognitive function such as working memory (WM). Similar impairments are seen in various psychiatric disorders that are associated with higher susceptibility to stress and with prefrontal cortical dysfunctions, suggesting that acute stress may play a potential role in such dysfunctions. However, it remains unknown whether acute stress has immediate effects on WM-related prefrontal activity.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we investigated neural activity of 27 healthy female participants during a blocked WM task (numerical N-back) while moderate psychological stress was induced by viewing strongly aversive (vs. neutral) movie material together with a self-referencing instruction. To assess stress manipulation, autonomic and endocrine, as well as subjective, measurements were acquired throughout the experiment.
Successfully induced acute stress resulted in significantly reduced WM-related activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and was accompanied by less deactivation in brain regions that are jointly referred to as the default mode network.
This study demonstrates that experimentally induced acute stress in healthy volunteers results in a reduction of WM-related DLPFC activity and reallocation of neural resources away from executive function networks. These effects may be explained by supraoptimal levels of catecholamines potentially in conjunction with elevated levels of cortisol. A similar mechanism involving acute stress as a mediating factor may play an important role in higher-order cognitive deficits and hypofrontality observed in various psychiatric disorders.

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Available from: Shaozheng Qin
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    • "Firstly, the CAR may exert a slow effect on brain functional connectivity. Although a number of studies have revealed that stress and stress hormone have an acute effect on brain function and functional connectivity (Wang et al., 2005; Pruessner et al., 2008; Wager et al., 2009; Qin et al., 2009; Hermans et al., 2011; Ossewaarde et al., 2011; Veer et al., 2011), previous studies have also demonstrated that corticosteroids enhance PFC function (Henckens et al., 2011) and increase the coupling between the amygdala and the mPFC (Henckens et al., 2010) by slow, genomic changes that manifest themselves several hours after exogenous administration . These pharmacological studies, however, are not an exact copy of naturally occurring circumstances. "
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    ABSTRACT: Cortisol awakening response (CAR) is the cortisol secretory activity in the first 30-60 minutes immediately after awakening in the morning. Alterations in CAR as a trait have been associated with changes in the brain structure and function. CAR also fluctuates over days. Little, however, is known about the relationship between CAR as a state and brain activity. Using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we investigated whether the CAR predicts intrinsic functional connectivity (FC) of the brain in the afternoon of the same day. Data from forty-nine healthy participants were analyzed. Salivary cortisol levels were assessed immediately after awakening and 15, 30 and 60 minutes after awakening, and resting-state fMRI data were obtained in the afternoon. Global FC strength (FCS) of each voxel was computed to provide a whole-brain characterization of intrinsic functional architecture. Correlation analysis was used to examine whether CAR predicts the intrinsic FC of core brain networks. We observed that the CAR was positively correlated with the FCS of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Further analysis revealed that higher CAR predicted stronger positive mPFC connectivity with regions in the default mode network. Our findings suggest that the HPA activity after awakening in the early morning may predict intrinsic functional connectivity of mPFC at rest in the afternoon of the same day. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Inc.
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    • "eption ( Lewis and Miall , 2003 , 2006 ; Meck , 2005 ) , are also sensitive to the effects of stress hormones ( McEwen , 2004 ; Ulrich - Lai and Herman , 2009 ) . For example , the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is involved in the timing of long intervals ( Lewis and Miall , 2006 ) , and the functioning of this region is affected by acute stress ( Qin et al . , 2009 ) . Thus , altered time perception under stress is probable . Changes in time perception have been reported under acute stress . Previous studies found subjective durations to be longer under acute stress , which was interpreted as due to increased arousal ( Meck , 1983 ; Watts and Sharrock , 1984 ; Droit - Volet et al . , 2010 ; Tamm e"
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    ABSTRACT: Maintaining accurate and precise temporal perception under conditions of stress is important. Studies in animal models and clinic patients have suggested that time perception can change under chronic stress. Little is known, however, about the relationship between chronic stress and time perception in healthy individuals. Here, a sample of 62 healthy young men completed Cohen's Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) as a measure of chronic stress levels, while time perception was measured using a temporal bisection task. This task used short (400 ms) and long (1600 ms) visual signals as anchor durations. Participants were presented with a range of intermediate probe durations and were required to judge whether the durations were more similar to the short or the long anchor. Results showed that chronic stress was negatively related to temporal sensitivity indexed by the Weber ratio. However, there was no significant correlation between chronic stress and subjective duration indexed by the bisection point. These results demonstrate that higher chronic stress is associated with lower temporal sensitivity and thus provide evidence for a link between chronic stress and time perception in healthy adults.
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    • "• High state anxiety impacts executive function (EF) when stress is induced (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009) • watching a violent video clip reduced working memory function (Qin et al., 2009) • anticipation of a recorded speech negatively impacted decision making (Starcke et al., 2008) • The presence of an observer alone may affect performance • cognitive flexibility impaired in the presence of a third party examiner during administration of standardized measures (Horwitz & McCaffrey, 2008) • Stress can also facilitate EF • university students during displayed faster RTs on Stroop task (Kofman et al., 2006) Objective • Adults are expected to show differences in EF when moderately stressed, with decreases in EF abilities on tasks measuring working memory, inhibition and cognitive flexibility compared to a control group in a low stress condition "
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    ABSTRACT: The ability of two groups of adults (total N =40) to complete different computer-based executive function (EF) tasks was evaluated, with one group of participants made to feel stressed while completing the study. Working memory performance was the (EF) task most negatively affected by increased stress.
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