Memory dynamics under stress

Conny W. E. M. Quaedflieg*, Lars Schwabe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Stressful events have a major impact on memory. They modulate memory formation in a time-dependent manner, closely linked to the temporal profile of action of major stress mediators, in particular catecholamines and glucocorticoids. Shortly after stressor onset, rapidly acting catecholamines and fast, non-genomic glucocorticoid actions direct cognitive resources to the processing and consolidation of the ongoing threat. In parallel, control of memory is biased towards rather rigid systems, promoting habitual forms of memory allowing efficient processing under stress, at the expense of cognitive systems supporting memory flexibility and specificity. In this review, we discuss the implications of this shift in the balance of multiple memory systems for the dynamics of the memory trace. Specifically, stress appears to hinder the incorporation of contextual details into the memory trace, to impede the integration of new information into existing knowledge structures, to impair the flexible generalisation across past experiences, and to hamper the modification of memories in light of new information. Delayed, genomic glucocorticoid actions might reverse the control of memory, thus restoring homeostasis and cognitive control of memory again.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-376
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Stress
  • glucocorticoids
  • noradrenaline
  • hippocampus
  • multiple memory systems
  • memory generalisation
  • reconsolidation


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