Bad Rush

Stress-related adrenaline may harm your DNA
November 30, 2011

For a while now, researchers have known that chronic stress really does make your hair turn gray—not to mention increase your risk of life-threatening diseases. What they didn't understand was why. Now, for the first time, researchers at Duke Medical Center have found a mechanism that helps explain the damage stress wages on our bodies.

The key is adrenaline, which our bodies produce at elevated levels in times of stress. Using an adrenaline-like compound to trigger a stress reaction in mice, researchers identified a receptor that allowed the compound to damage DNA within cells. "This could give us a plausible explanation of how chronic stress may lead to a variety of human conditions and disorders," says Robert J. Lefkowitz, James B. Duke Professor of medicine and biochemistry, who led the study.

After receiving the compound for four weeks, mice showed lowered levels of the protein P53, considered a "guardian of the genome" for its ability to suppress abnormalities such as tumor formation. "We hypothesize that this is the reason for the chromosomal irregularities we found in these chronically stressed mice," says Makoto Hara, a postdoctoral fellow in Lefkowitz's lab.