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Understanding stress to improve mental health

Principal Investigator:
  • Jaideep Bains, University of Calgary
Team Members:
  • Stephanie Borgland, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary
  • Michael Hill, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary
  • Quentin Pittman, University of Calgary
  • Keith Sharkey, University of Calgary
  • Hotchkiss Brain Institute - University of Calgary

Project Overview

Recent estimates indicate that 1 in 5 Canadians are affected annually by mood, anxiety and other mental illnesses. These issues are exacerbated by stress. This is important because an acute episode of stress is the most common trigger for breakthrough presentations of many mental illnesses, and when stress-related disorders are accounted for, over 40% of the population is affected by a mental health disorder at some time in their life. This pressing problem, bordering on crisis, requires immediate attention. For this project, Dr. Bains and his team are using transgenic animal models combined with optogenetics, electrophysiology, circuit mapping and behaviour to establish causal links between early life stress (ELS), and changes in neural circuits that cause behavioural modifications in later life consistent with anxiety and depression phenotypes. Their guiding hypothesis is that early life experience embeds synaptic and cellular changes that bias individuals towards resilience or vulnerability in response to stress. By mapping the stress connectome and understanding how changes in it give rise to the behaviours that characterize mental illnesses, a door to a new paradigm will open for understanding how to alter the trajectory of disrupted neural circuits and mitigate mental health challenges.