Brain Star Award Winner 2020: Nuria Daviu Abant

Nuria Daviu Abant
Nuria Daviu Abant

Dr. Nuria Daviu Abant, University of Calgary

Scientific publication

Núria Daviu, Tamás Füzesi, David G Rosenegger, Neilen P Rasiah, Toni-Lee Sterley, Govind Peringod, Jaideep S Bains Paraventricular nucleus CRH neurons encode stress controllability and regulate defensive behavior selection. Nature Neuroscience. 2020 Mar;23(3):398-410. doi: 10.1038/s41593-020-0591-0

Identification of neurons that encode stress controllability and regulate stress response offers insight into the neural basis of stress resilience

Our survival depends on our ability to continually adjust and respond to ever evolving challenges in our world.  One intriguing question that Dr. Nuria Daviu and colleagues have helped elucidate is how the brain uses information regarding control during one stress exposure to modify its response to future stress situations. Their research shows that a specific group of neurons, called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) neurons encode stress controllability, and regulate behavioural response to the stress.

In humans and rodents, the perception of control during stressful events has lasting behavioral consequences. But how the brain links prior stressful experience to subsequent behaviors was poorly understood. Nuria Daviu and colleagues showed that hypothalamic CRH neurons increase their activity prior to the initiation of innate escape behavior. This anticipatory increase is sensitive to stressful stimuli that have high or low levels of outcome control. Specifically, experimental stress with high outcome control increases CRH anticipatory activity, increasing future escape behavior. By contrast, stress with no outcome control prevents the emergence of this anticipatory activity and decreases subsequent escape behavior. These observations indicate that CRH neurons encode stress controllability and contribute to shifts between active and passive innate defensive strategies.

These findings in mice may have important implications for humans as multiple reports indicate that people who have experienced a trauma during which they felt like they had no control show passive responses to subsequent stressors, making it difficult to tackle challenges.

By revealing that uncontrollable and controllable stress have opposing effects on the activity of a single population of cells, these findings open an avenue towards using controllable stress as a non-pharmaceutical approach for trauma patients. If prior history of controllable stress makes individuals more resilient, even in different stressful situations, then it follows that one could train resilience by intentionally presenting controllable stressors.  This newly revealed role for CRH neurons opens a new perspective on the study of the neural basis of stress resilience. Future experiment will aim to assess how this particular cell population interacts with other brain regions to receive, process and mediate innate defensive behaviors.

Dr. Nuria Daviu Abant

Dr. Nuria Daviu Abant performed this study as a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Jaideep Bains at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary. The question of how stress controllability affects future human behavior has intrigued Dr. Daviu for a long time. When she joined Dr. Bains’ lab she was determined to understand how the core nucleus of stress response might be involved in stress controllability response and consequences. She conceptualized the project, designed and conducted experiments and analyzed the majority of data.  Dr. Daviu wrote the manuscript together with Dr. Bains.


Funding sources

This work was supported by an operating grant to Jaideep Bains from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Brain Canada Neurophotonics Platform. Nuria Daviu was supported by Fellowships from Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions.

Watch Nuria Daviu explain her results in a CAN trainee research spotlight video here: