EPFL scientists have identified rank in social hierarchies as a major determining factor for vulnerability to chronic stress. They also show that energy metabolism in the brain is a predictive biomarker for social status as well as stress vulnerability and resilience.
Stress is a major risk factor for a range of psychopathologies. However, stress does not affect everyone equally: in the face of sustained adversity, some people develop depression symptoms while others adapt and remain resilient. Identifying risk factors and biomarkers for vulnerability to developing stress-induced depression in order to identify individual susceptibility before stress exposure has been a major challenge. EPFL scientists have now shown that social organization can affect differential vulnerability to chronic stress and underscored brain energy metabolism as a predictive biomarker for social status and susceptibility to stress-induced depression. The work is published in Current Biology.
The work was carried out by the lab of Carmen Sandi at EPFL, which has long history of research on stress. Previous studies have repeatedly shown that following exposure to defeat experiences, some mice show signs of depression such as avoiding social contact, while other mice behave as unstressed, retaining normal social interests. But most of this work identified vulnerability in the mice based on symptoms developed after stress exposure, not before.