Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Marloes Henckens (Donders Series 110)

17 April 2013

Promotors: Prof.dr. G. Fernández, Prof.dr  M. Joëls, Prof.dr. D.G. Norris

Copromotor: Dr. G. A. van Wingen

Imaging the stressed brain.  Elucidating the time- and region-specific effects of stress hormones on brain function; a translational approach

Stress has a powerful impact on brain functioning. The hormones released during the physiological response to stressful experiences affect brain processing, but the exact mechanism by which they do so remains largely unknown. Using both human and rodent neuroimaging techniques, as well as electrophysiology, Marloes Henckens investigated the effects of stress and the stress hormone cortisol on brain functioning. Results indicate that stress and cortisol affect the functional connectivity between brain regions. Moreover, cortisol appears to influence brain activity in a clear region- and time-specific manner. Acute exposure to either stress or cortisol induces a hypervigilant state of processing in which emotional processing is prioritized. However, several hours after cortisol exposure, the stress hormone induces an increase in cognitive control over emotional processing and improved cognitive performance. Thus, cortisol seems to be a crucial factor controlling the stress response in the brain and restoring normal brain function in the aftermath of stress exposure. Restoration of proper cortisol signaling in patients suffering from stress-related mental disorders such as depression or post–traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could therefore contribute to their treatment.       

Marloes Henckens (Beegden, 1984) studied natural sciences at the Radboud University Nijmegen. She conducted her PhD-research, financed by a Toptalent grant of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), at the Radboud University Nijmegen and the University Medical Center Utrecht. Since 2013 she is working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.