Stress has profound effects on brain structure and function, but the underlying mechanisms are still poorly understood. Recent studies imply that neuronal cell adhesion molecules of the immunoglobulin superfamily--NCAM and L1--are important mediators of the effects of stress on the brain. Chronic stress regimes that lead to hippocampal atrophy and spatial-learning impairment in rodents simultaneously induce a pattern of changes in cell adhesion molecule expression that fits with a role for these molecules in stress-induced neuronal damage and neuroprotective mechanisms. These findings highlight cell adhesion molecules as potential therapeutic targets to treat stress-related cognitive disturbances.