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Behavioral stress has detrimental effects on subsequent cognitive performance in many species, including humans. For example, humans exposed to stressful situations typically exhibit marked deficits in various learning and memory tasks. However, the underlying neural mechanisms by which stress exerts its effects on learning and memory are unknown. We now report that in adult male rats, stress (i.e., restraint plus tailshock) impairs long-term potentiation (LTP) but enhances long-term depression (LTD) in the CA1 area of the hippocampus, a structure implicated in learning and memory processes. These effects on LTP and LTD are prevented when the animals were given CGP39551 (the carboxyethylester of CGP 37849; DL-(E)-2-amino-4-methyl-5-phosphono-3-pentenoic acid), a competitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, before experiencing stress. In contrast, the anxiolytic drug diazepam did not block the stress effects on hippocampal plasticity. Thus, the effects of stress on subsequent LTP and LTD appear to be mediated through the activation of the NMDA subtype of glutamate receptors. Such modifications in hippocampal plasticity may contribute to learning and memory impairments associated with stress.

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Kim, J. J., Foy, M. R., & Thompson, R. F. (1996). Behavioral stress modifies hippocampal plasticity through N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 93(10), 4750–4753.

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