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Biological signatures of stress responses and potentiality of a diet enriched in n-3 fatty acids to promote positive mental health status despite adversity

Principal Investigator

Caroline Ménard (Psychiatry and neuroscience)


Gina Muckle (Psychology), Richard Bélanger (Pediatrics)


Natalia Poliakova (CHU de Québec-Université Laval), Pierre Ayotte (Université Laval), Stéphanie Fulton (Université de Montréal), Thierry Alquier (Université de Montréal)


Northern populations are exposed to a unique and repeated stress due to important environmental, cultural, and socio-economic changes having happened over the years. Psychological distress is still evaluated with questionnaires highlighting the need to discover biomarkers that could be used as diagnostic tools or to test preventive strategies. Depression is now the leading cause of disabilities worldwide and will affect 1 out of 5 individuals in their lifetime. ​Unfortunately, 30-50% of depressed individuals are unresponsive to traditional neuron-centered antidepressant treatments suggesting that causal biological mechanisms, such as increased inflammation reflected by elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines in the blood, remain untreated.

We investigate the biology of psychological distress and stress responses using a whole-body approach, including the brain but also the gut through its microbiome, immune and vascular systems, and take advantage of mouse models to gain mechanistic insights and to test preventive strategies to promote positive adaptations. Preclinical mouse models allow the possibility to evaluate the impact of specific forms of stress (e.g. social, early life) on biological responses as well as the individual contribution of lifestyle habits such as diet composition. In humans, all these parameters are contributing to health status and biological adaptations, justifying the need to complement human studies with animal studies to identify novel targets and potential mechanisms to develop innovative preventive strategies. We hypothesize that chronic stress and lifestyle habits lead to biological changes, possibly sex- and population-specific, that can modulate mental health status and further be used as biomarkers.