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Psychoneuroendocrinology

ADRA2B deletion variant selectively predicts stress-induced enhancement of long-term memory in females.


PMID 24997351

Abstract

Clarifying the mechanisms that underlie stress-induced alterations of learning and memory may lend important insight into susceptibility factors governing the development of stress-related psychological disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous work has shown that carriers of the ADRA2B Glu(301)-Glu(303) deletion variant exhibit enhanced emotional memory, greater amygdala responses to emotional stimuli and greater intrusiveness of traumatic memories. We speculated that carriers of this deletion variant might also be more vulnerable to stress-induced enhancements of long-term memory, which would implicate the variant as a possible susceptibility factor for traumatic memory formation. One hundred and twenty participants (72 males, 48 females) submerged their hand in ice cold (stress) or warm (no stress) water for 3min. Immediately afterwards, they studied a list of 42 words varying in emotional valence and arousal and then completed an immediate free recall test. Twenty-four hours later, participants' memory for the word list was examined via free recall and recognition assessments. Stressed participants exhibiting greater heart rate responses to the stressor had enhanced recall on the 24-h assessment. Importantly, this enhancement was independent of the emotional nature of the learned information. In contrast to previous work, we did not observe a general enhancement of memory for emotional information in ADRA2B deletion carriers. However, stressed female ADRA2B deletion carriers, particularly those exhibiting greater heart rate responses to the stressor, did demonstrate greater recognition memory than all other groups. Collectively, these findings implicate autonomic mechanisms in the pre-learning stress-induced enhancement of long-term memory and suggest that the ADRA2B deletion variant may selectively predict stress effects on memory in females. Such findings lend important insight into the physiological mechanisms underlying stress effects on learning and their sex-dependent nature.