Stress Responsive Systems

The theoretical construct provided by diathesis-stress models is a centerpiece of psychiatric thinking and a driving force behind diverse avenues of neurobiological and clinical research. Thus, it is likely that valuable insight into the etiology of psychiatric illness can be obtained through the identification and examination of biological responses to stress. For the sake of simplification, we have broken biological stress responses into four independent categories. The reader should note, however, that overall emotional, cognitive and behavioral responses to stress are more likely a result of synchronous activity among these systems. That is, none of these systems are singularly responsible for an individual's subjective experience of stress or the overall health consequences that might ensue. Nevertheless, the following categorical description of the four proposed systems is provided as a heuristic overview of both classical stress responsive systems (sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) as well as more recently discovered systems implicated in stress [extrahypothalamic corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) systems and brain cytokines].

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