Journal article

Learning under stress: a role for the neural cell adhesion molecule NCAM

Stress is known to be a potent modulator of brain function and cognition. While prolonged and/or excessive stress generally exerts negative effects on learning and memory processes, acute stress can have differential effects on memory function depending on a number of factors (such as stress duration, stress intensity, timing and the source of the stress, as well as the learning type under study). Here, we have focused on the effects of 'acute' stress, and examined the literature attending to whether the "source of stress" is 'intrinsic' (i.e., when stress is originated by the cognitive task) or 'extrinsic' (i.e., when stress is induced by elements not related to the cognitive task). We have questioned here whether the neural cell adhesion molecule of the immunoglobulin superfamily (NCAM) contributes to the neurobiological mechanisms that translate the effects of these two different stress sources into the different behavioral and cognitive outcomes. NCAM is a cell adhesion macromolecule known to play a critical role in development and plasticity of the nervous system. NCAM and its post-translational modified form PSA- NCAM are critically involved in mechanisms of learning and memory and their expression levels are known to be highly susceptible to modulation by stress. Whereas available data are insufficient to conclude as to whether NCAM mediates extrinsic stress effects on learning and memory processes, we present systematic evidence supporting a key mediating role for both NCAM and PSA-NCAM in the facilitation of memory consolidation induced by intrinsic stress. Furthermore, NCAM is suggested to participate in some of the bidirectional effects of stress on memory processes, with its enhanced synaptic expression involved in facilitating stress actions while its reduced expression being related to impairing effects of stress on memory function

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