Money supply decreased considerably between Black Tuesday and the Bank Holiday in March when there were massive bank runs across the United States. There are also various heterodox theories that downplay or reject the explanations of the Keynesians and monetarists.
Wharton's Michael Platt and Penn's Shelley Berger discuss their interdisciplinary research on stress.
Work, finances, relationships — all have the ability to create chronic stress that can lead to anxiety, depression and other issues. Two Penn Integrates Knowledge PIK professors — Michael Platta Wharton marketing professor and professor of neuroscience and psychology at Penn, and Shelley Berger, a Penn professor of cell and development biology and director of The Epigenetics Institute, have teamed up in an interdisciplinary approach to learn more about how stress affects individuals.
Platt and Berger recently spoke about their research and its implications on the Knowledge Wharton show on SiriusXM channel Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.
Following is an edited transcript of the conversation. Tell us the background behind this research. We actually have an ant lab at the Perelman School of Medicine. Recently, we became interested in mouse behavior and studying the brain and epigenetics in the brain.
Through conversations with Michael, that led to how this whole thing began on crossing species and studying mouse, primate and even human. Give us a better understanding of epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the study of how the environment affects the way genes are expressed. We commonly think about mutations affecting genes and gene expression.
But epigenetics is the study of how the environment can affect the way genes are turned on and off without mutation. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a great example. Michael, tell us about your interest in this research?
We have been interested in behavior for a long time. We got interested in how genes affect the development of the structure and function of the brain and nervous system to ultimately produce behavior.
Of course, that equation leaves out the central role of epigenetics that Shelley just described, which is that the same genes in the same body in a different environment can lead to very different outcomes. If you imagine yourself living with lots of family support, for example, you might respond better to the stresses of the environment — to a stock market crash, to problems in the economy, etc.
But if you are living alone without any social support, then that stressful event or the long-term stress can be much more impactful on your body and your brain. Shelley and I met two years ago, when I had just arrived here from Duke University…. As we were talking, we began to realize that we were interested in very similar things, although our expertise is very complementary.
We had been working on the neurophysiology of behavior, the neurophysiology of social behavior and how genetics might influence that. But we had really no expertise in epigenetics at all. How will this research lead to a better understanding of the human brain and how it reacts to stress from environmental factors?
How are learning and memory affected by the stress of fear conditioning? We have to work out all the methods to carry out high-resolution studies of these chemical marks in the brain from human post-mortem samples.
Then, starting to get interested in some results we had in mouse, we thought that the crossover between fear conditioning in mouse and PTSD in human could be really interesting.
We got in touch with a guy who has a bio-bank of humans who had suffered from PTSD. Michael filled in the middle part with primate research, which is a great link between the two.
As useful as a mouse is for understanding a lot of the basic processes that we think are involved in the response of the human brain to stress, sometimes that translation is not perfect. That reflects the fact that mice and humans last shared a common ancestor much longer ago than humans and monkeys.
For that reason, the human brain and the monkey brain are much more similar than the human brain and the mouse brain. There are certain aspects of behavior, in terms of behavioral complexity and social complexity, that are shared between humans and monkeys, that are less well-paralleled in the mouse.
The monkey gives us the capability to look at some of these other issues like social support and how that might help with the problems that one encounters with social competition.
This is very different from what mice experience. People and monkeys live in groups for a good reason. This is a beautiful partnership because it has the potential to lead to understandings that can lead to new treasuries. Also, putting my Wharton hat on, this kind of project can potentially illuminate ways in which we might be able to mitigate stress, say, within the workplace.
Burnout is the number-one topic that I hear about from our MBA students, and they want to do how to deal with that. You hear the same thing from residents who are training in medicine.
But scientists watch [primates] all the time.
Michael has scientists working with him, watching these animals in their natural habitat, so they know exactly what sort of place they have in the social spectrum.FREE Member Preview Enabled.
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