This funding of nearly half a million euros, announced today by the University of Coimbra, is granted in the context of the CaixaResearch Contest for Research in Health, an initiative of the Fundação la Caixa, which has the support of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) . "Chronic 'stress' is increasingly prevalent in modern societies and results in an increased risk for mental health, due to its effects on the brain", he says, in a note sent to Lusa agency, UC, referring that "one of the regions The brain most affected by 'stress' is the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning complex behaviours and in decision-making”.

It is estimated that in Europe more than 40 million people suffer from anxiety and depression – mental disorders associated with chronic 'stress' – the UC adds, stressing that “these disorders are getting worse, significantly, due to the pandemic of covid. -19". Thus, it becomes “urgent to find solutions”, he maintains. "It is known that individuals subject to 'stress' chronically are more likely to suffer changes in their cognitive abilities, but the molecular bases of this association are unknown", explains Paulo Pinheiro, responsible for the project, quoted by the UC.

In this way, explains the CNC researcher, the intention is to study “the function of a gene expression regulatory molecule – miR-186-5p – which is known to be increased in the brain in situations of chronic 'stress', and which regulates cellular and molecular processes involved in learning and memory”. The researchers said they will "test the hypothesis that normalising miR-186-5p levels can counteract the negative effects of chronic 'stress' on cognition."

Thus, the main objective of this project, entitled “Regulation of synaptic function and dependent behavior of the prefrontal cortex by microRNA-186-5p induced by chronic 'stress'”, is to understand how the levels of miR-186-5p vary in the prefrontal cortex in response to chronic stress, and what is the impact of this regulation on neuronal function and behaviors dependent on this brain region.

Additionally, the researchers intend to understand whether the regulation of miR-186-5p is different between sexes, which could help explain different susceptibility to the harmful effects of chronic 'stress'. Lasting three years, this study could lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets to mitigate the effects of chronic 'stress' and improve mental health.

In addition to the project coordinator, Paulo Pinheiro, Ana Luísa Carvalho, leader of the CNC Synapse Biology group and the Department of Life Sciences (DCV) of the Faculty of Science and Technology at UC, Ângela Inácio, Beatriz are also part of the team. Rodrigues, Lino Ferreira, Mariline Silva, Miguel Lino, Sandra Santos, CNC researchers, and Jorge Valero, researcher at Achucarro - Basque Center for Neuroscience (Spain). In this 2021 edition, CaixaResearch de Pesquisa na Saúde allocated a total funding of 22.1 million euros to the 30 selected projects. Of the 644 projects submitted to the competition, 195 were submitted by Portuguese institutions, with 12 having been financed with a global budget of 7.9 million euros.