Lupien, S.J. et al. (2009)
Effects of Stress Throughout the Lifespan on the Brain, Behaviour and Cognition
Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10(6), 434-445

  • Chronic exposure to stress is known to affect the development of brain regions that are involved in attention, memory, and emotional responses.
  • The effect of stress is most important if it occurs at a time when parts of the brain are developing or changing quickly.  Before birth, infancy and early childhood, adolescence and old age are particularly vulnerable times.
  • Lupien and his colleagues reviewed a large number of studies of the stress response in humans and other mammals at different ages to build up a picture of the effect of stress on the brain throughout the lifespan.
  • The picture arising from these studies shows that stress at different times can lead to either an increase or a decrease in the level of steroid hormones secreted in the brain, and that these changes affect different parts of the brain at different times.
  • In general, stresses in early life (including before birth) have the most severe effects, and these can persist into adulthood and even old age.