Phillip R. Zoladz & David M. Diamond
Over a century of behavioral research has shown that stress can enhance or impair learning and memory. In the present review, we have explored the complex effects of stress on cognition and propose that they are characterized by linear and non-linear doseresponse functions, which together reveal a hormetic relationship between stress and learning. We suggest that stress initially enhances hippocampal function, resulting from amygdala-induced excitation of hippocampal synaptic plasticity, as well as the excitatory effects of several neuromodulators, including corticosteroids, norepinephrine, corticotropin-releasing hormone, acetylcholine and dopamine. We propose that this rapid activation of the amygdala-hippocampus brain memory system results in a linear doseresponse relation between emotional strength and memory formation. More prolonged stress, however, leads to an inhibition of hippocampal function, which can be attributed to compensatory cellular responses that protect hippocampal neurons from excitotoxicity. This inhibition of hippocampal functioning in response to prolonged stress is potentially relevant to the well-described curvilinear dose-response relationship between arousal and memory. Our emphasis on the temporal features of stress-brain interactions addresses how stress can activate, as well as impair, hippocampal functioning to produce a hormetic relationship between stress and learning.