The Impact of Stress and Glucocorticoids on Memory
Responses to stress are mediated by a complex network of the nervous and endocrine systems. Glucocorticoids, which are among the most important “players” in stress resilience, may have important implications in the cognitive functions, particularly in the modulation of memory. Declarative memory, the memory for facts, events and word meaning is the most studied type of memory on which glucocorticoids exert an influence, both positively through consolidation and negatively through impairment. These effects depend on the receptor type, dose, time of exposure, memory component and the salience of stimuli, retrieval being generally affected and storage being facilitated, especially for emotionally relevant events. Glucocorticoids also induce hippocampal atrophy, which is a hallmark seen in various diseases accompanied by a chronic high level of cortisol, such as the Cushing syndrome, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, chronic stress might be a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's disease, especially when a genetic background and other environmental influences are present.