News Release

Resilience to stress can be measured and controlled in the brain and body

Using rodent models, researchers assessed the short- and long-term effects of stress

Reports and Proceedings

Society for Neuroscience

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Recent research has begun to identify the neural mechanisms in stress responses that may lead to the development of resilience. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2021, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

Resilience to stress is the ability of an individual to cope with hardship; this ability comes easier to some individuals than others.  A person’s level of resilience can be a determining factor for successfully coping with stressful events. Individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other disorders may one day benefit from treatments targeting specific circuits and regions of the brain. However, the exact mechanisms of resilience, such as how it mediates the relationship between the brain and the rest of the body, are not yet known. 

Today’s new findings show:

  • Activation of a subset of touch neurons in the skin can reduce stress hormones after minor stress; the elimination of these neurons leads to depression-like behavior (Melanie Schaffler, University of Pennsylvania).
  • In rats who exhibit high anxiety and passive coping behavior, biological sex moderates the presence of resilience and active coping styles in adulthood after adolescent stress (Eva E. Redei, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University).
  • PTSD-prone rats have higher levels of urinary adrenaline and more inflammation-associated bacteria in their gut; exposure to stress significantly alters their gut microbiota (Esther Sabban, New York Medical College).

“Stress affects us in many ways, and these studies show us that resilience is also multi-faceted,” said press conference moderator Martha Farah, Walter H. Annenberg Professor in Natural Sciences and director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. “Discovering the brain mechanisms of resilience is arguably the holy grail of psychiatry. These findings will contribute to new treatments for PTSD and other anxiety and mood disorders.”

This research was supported by national funding agencies including the National Institutes of Health and private funding organizations. Find out more about resilience, stress, and PTSD on

Stress Resilience Press Conference Summary      

  • Aspects of resilience can be identified and measured in the brain. 
  • The skin and gut are connected to stress and resilience, offering potential new therapeutic targets. 
  • Biological sex may moderate adult resilience after stress during youth.

Examining the Role of Specific Touch Neurons in Reward and Stress Resilience

Melanie Schaffler,, Abstract P702.12

  • Neurons in the skin could serve as new targets for stress- and mood-related disorders. 
  • Researchers identified a small population of touch neurons in mouse skin that reduced stress hormones when activated, suggesting a link between touch and resilience. 
  • Elimination of a subset of touch neurons early in the mouse’s life correlated with depression-like behavior in adulthood, implicating touch as a mediator of mood and disability.

Sexually Dimorphic Effects of Adolescent Stress in an X-linked Congenic Strain Showing Passive Coping and Increased Anxiety

Eva E. Redei,, Abstract P704.08

  • In passive, anxiety-prone adolescent rats, biological sex correlated with different adult responses to stress during adolescence.
  • In response to stress during adolescence, adult male rats exhibited more active coping and spatial awareness than female rats, while adult female rats showed evidence of decreased fear memory. 
  • Stress during adolescence could “teach” coping behavior even in genetically vulnerable individuals.

Mechanisms of Susceptibility or Resilience to Traumatic Stress: Potential Influence of the Microbiome

Esther Sabban,, Abstract P714.08

  • Rats susceptible to traumatic stress had more bacteria in the gut associated with inflammation as well as higher urinary adrenaline. 
  • Weeks after exposure to traumatic stress, there were significant differences in the gut between susceptible and resilient rats: the susceptible rats had shorter colons, greater blood-brain barrier permeability, and altered bacterial composition. 


About the Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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