Scope: This Summerschool focuses on the molecular and cellular basis of neuropsychiatric stress system disorders including depressive illness, anxiety and aggressive states, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and neuro-immune disorders. These disorders have a genetic background, but the genes involved are unknown. Genes do not act by themselves, but need to be regulated. The steroid end products of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, glucocorticoids, are as primary hormonal mediators of the stress response, extremely important for this purpose. These hormones are essential for maintenance of homeostasis, behavioural adaptation and survival. However, if the stress hormones circulate in too low or too high concentrations, or if their action is mismanaged, they cause neuronal atrophy and chemical imbalance enhancing vulnerability to stress system disorders in genetically predisposed individuals. Objective: The objective of the Summerschool is to bridge the gap between clinical symptomatology of stress system disorders in the brain and basic science. As Leitmotiv we use glucocorticoids, which are molecules par excellence for integration of brain and body functions during development, aging and stress under healthy and diseased conditions.
The pathogenetic role of the steroids is examined as well as the potential of steroid- induced mechanisms to promote restorative capacity still present in the diseased tissue. Content: The Summerschool guides the student through the stress system on various levels of biological organisation from genes, neurons and circuits to system physiology and behaviour. Animal models for stress system disorders are based on variations in gene-environment interaction including either exposure to adverse conditions such as early trauma due to a disrupted mother-infant relation-ship or due to mutation of genes involved in stress regulation. Highlights are the novel insights in nuclear receptors modulating genetic information and the wealth of new data on stress-related genes. It will be the challenge of the School to incorporate this new knowledge in diagnosis and management of stress system disorders.