HR Strange But True

Study of Bullying Mouse Bosses Proves ‘Workcage’ Stress Bad for Memory

If you ever worked for a manager who was a stress-inducing rat, this study of the effects of bullying bosses done with mice will really interest you.

Researchers at Ohio State University studied how bullying by an aggressive alpha rodent “boss” affected the brains of worker mice and what could be done in the future to prevent neurological damage.

The study sought to establish the relationship between short-term memory and prolonged stress and anxiety. In an experiment, a large and nasty intruder mouse made visits to a “workcage” full of regular mice.

When mice that were repeatedly exposed to the intruder were put into a maze that they had mastered before the stressful experiment, they had a difficult time recalling where the exit hole was. “The stressed mice didn’t recall it,” said Dr. Jonathan Godbout, assistant professor of neuroscience and lead researcher, in an OSU press release. “The mice that weren’t stressed remembered it.”

The research focused on the hippocampus, the center of memory and emotional response in the brain. The stressed mice showed symptoms of spatial memory loss, social avoidance, and depression that lasted for weeks after the experiment.

They also exhibited measurable physical changes in their brains, including the presence of cells called macrophages, which are evidence of inflammation caused by the immune system’s response to constant external stress. Their brains also showed suppression of the growth of new neurons.

When researchers gave the mice a chemical that inhibited inflammation, neither the brain-cell problem nor the depressive symptoms went away. However, the memory loss and inflammatory macrophages disappeared.

This led them to conclude that the poststress memory problems are directly linked to inflammation and the immune system, rather than to other damage to the brain. Hopefully, this study may help pave the way for new treatments for excessive stress.

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