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Acute stress differentially affects spatial configuration learning in high and low cortisol-responding healthy adults.

Meyer T, Smeets T, Giesbrecht T, Quaedflieg CW, Merckelbach H - Eur J Psychotraumatol (2013)

Bottom Line: Acute stress did not impact SCCT learning overall, but opposing effects emerged for high versus low cortisol responders to the MAST.Learning scores following stress were reduced in low cortisol responders, while high cortisol-responding participants showed improved learning.The effects of stress on spatial configuration learning were moderated by the magnitude of endogenous cortisol secretion.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.

ABSTRACT

Background: Stress and stress hormones modulate memory formation in various ways that are relevant to our understanding of stress-related psychopathology, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Particular relevance is attributed to efficient memory formation sustained by the hippocampus and parahippocampus. This process is thought to reduce the occurrence of intrusions and flashbacks following trauma, but may be negatively affected by acute stress. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the efficiency of visuo-spatial processing and learning based on the hippocampal area is related to PTSD symptoms.

Objective: The current study investigated the effect of acute stress on spatial configuration learning using a spatial contextual cueing task (SCCT) known to heavily rely on structures in the parahippocampus.

Method: Acute stress was induced by subjecting participants (N = 34) to the Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST). Following a counterbalanced within-subject approach, the effects of stress and the ensuing hormonal (i.e., cortisol) activity on subsequent SCCT performance were compared to SCCT performance following a no-stress control condition.

Results: Acute stress did not impact SCCT learning overall, but opposing effects emerged for high versus low cortisol responders to the MAST. Learning scores following stress were reduced in low cortisol responders, while high cortisol-responding participants showed improved learning.

Conclusions: The effects of stress on spatial configuration learning were moderated by the magnitude of endogenous cortisol secretion. These findings suggest a possible mechanism by which cortisol responses serve an adaptive function during stress and trauma, and this may prove to be a promising route for future research in this area.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus

Cortisol responses in men and women to the MAST vs. control condition. Endogenous cortisol responses were robust in both men and women using hormonal contraceptives; error bars represent standard errors of measurement.
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Figure 0002: Cortisol responses in men and women to the MAST vs. control condition. Endogenous cortisol responses were robust in both men and women using hormonal contraceptives; error bars represent standard errors of measurement.

Mentions: A 2 (Condition: stress, control) by 5 (Time: cortisol measurements) by 2 (Gender) repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant three-way interaction of Time by Condition by Gender, F(1.9, 59.9) = 4.7, p=0.014, =0.13. Separate follow-up tests for men and women revealed significant Time by Condition interactions in both men, F(2.1, 33.3) = 23.8, p<0.001, =0.60 and women, F(1.5, 24.2) = 6.2, p=0.011, =0.28. Post-hoc pairwise comparisons showed that men displayed elevated cortisol levels in the stress condition, as compared with the control condition, at t+10, t+25, and t+40 (Bonferroni-adjusted ps < 0.005), but not at tpre-stress or t+00 (adjusted ps > 0.115). Relative to the control condition, women displayed elevated cortisol levels in the stress condition only at t+10 and t+25 (adjusted ps < 0.036), but not at tpre-stress, t+00, or t+40 (adjusted ps > 0.118). An independent-samples t-test comparing delta-peak cortisol levels in the stress condition between men and women revealed a trend toward stronger cortisol increases in men (M=14.5 nmol/l, SD=9.5) than in women (M=8.5 nmol/l, SD=9.2), t(32) = 1.9, p=0.069. Descriptively, 88% of men (15/17) and 65% of women (11/17) could be classified as cortisol responders in the MAST condition (i.e., displaying a cortisol increase ≥ 2.5 nmol/l; e.g., Kirschbaum, Pirke, & Hellhammer, 1993), Pearson Chi-square = 2.62, p=0.106. Cortisol data are summarized visually in Fig. 2.


Acute stress differentially affects spatial configuration learning in high and low cortisol-responding healthy adults.

Meyer T, Smeets T, Giesbrecht T, Quaedflieg CW, Merckelbach H - Eur J Psychotraumatol (2013)

Cortisol responses in men and women to the MAST vs. control condition. Endogenous cortisol responses were robust in both men and women using hormonal contraceptives; error bars represent standard errors of measurement.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3644058&req=5

Figure 0002: Cortisol responses in men and women to the MAST vs. control condition. Endogenous cortisol responses were robust in both men and women using hormonal contraceptives; error bars represent standard errors of measurement.
Mentions: A 2 (Condition: stress, control) by 5 (Time: cortisol measurements) by 2 (Gender) repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant three-way interaction of Time by Condition by Gender, F(1.9, 59.9) = 4.7, p=0.014, =0.13. Separate follow-up tests for men and women revealed significant Time by Condition interactions in both men, F(2.1, 33.3) = 23.8, p<0.001, =0.60 and women, F(1.5, 24.2) = 6.2, p=0.011, =0.28. Post-hoc pairwise comparisons showed that men displayed elevated cortisol levels in the stress condition, as compared with the control condition, at t+10, t+25, and t+40 (Bonferroni-adjusted ps < 0.005), but not at tpre-stress or t+00 (adjusted ps > 0.115). Relative to the control condition, women displayed elevated cortisol levels in the stress condition only at t+10 and t+25 (adjusted ps < 0.036), but not at tpre-stress, t+00, or t+40 (adjusted ps > 0.118). An independent-samples t-test comparing delta-peak cortisol levels in the stress condition between men and women revealed a trend toward stronger cortisol increases in men (M=14.5 nmol/l, SD=9.5) than in women (M=8.5 nmol/l, SD=9.2), t(32) = 1.9, p=0.069. Descriptively, 88% of men (15/17) and 65% of women (11/17) could be classified as cortisol responders in the MAST condition (i.e., displaying a cortisol increase ≥ 2.5 nmol/l; e.g., Kirschbaum, Pirke, & Hellhammer, 1993), Pearson Chi-square = 2.62, p=0.106. Cortisol data are summarized visually in Fig. 2.

Bottom Line: Acute stress did not impact SCCT learning overall, but opposing effects emerged for high versus low cortisol responders to the MAST.Learning scores following stress were reduced in low cortisol responders, while high cortisol-responding participants showed improved learning.The effects of stress on spatial configuration learning were moderated by the magnitude of endogenous cortisol secretion.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.

ABSTRACT

Background: Stress and stress hormones modulate memory formation in various ways that are relevant to our understanding of stress-related psychopathology, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Particular relevance is attributed to efficient memory formation sustained by the hippocampus and parahippocampus. This process is thought to reduce the occurrence of intrusions and flashbacks following trauma, but may be negatively affected by acute stress. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the efficiency of visuo-spatial processing and learning based on the hippocampal area is related to PTSD symptoms.

Objective: The current study investigated the effect of acute stress on spatial configuration learning using a spatial contextual cueing task (SCCT) known to heavily rely on structures in the parahippocampus.

Method: Acute stress was induced by subjecting participants (N = 34) to the Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST). Following a counterbalanced within-subject approach, the effects of stress and the ensuing hormonal (i.e., cortisol) activity on subsequent SCCT performance were compared to SCCT performance following a no-stress control condition.

Results: Acute stress did not impact SCCT learning overall, but opposing effects emerged for high versus low cortisol responders to the MAST. Learning scores following stress were reduced in low cortisol responders, while high cortisol-responding participants showed improved learning.

Conclusions: The effects of stress on spatial configuration learning were moderated by the magnitude of endogenous cortisol secretion. These findings suggest a possible mechanism by which cortisol responses serve an adaptive function during stress and trauma, and this may prove to be a promising route for future research in this area.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus