Glucocorticoid-receptor and selective attention

Responsible: Dipl.-Psych. Katja Kerstin Schneider

Cortisol is the most important glucocorticoid in the human organism. This hormone is produced in the adrenal cortex and modulates a diverse spectrum of metabolic processes, for example the carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Cortisol is also known for its effects as a “stress hormone”. In an acute stress episode cortisol is released to establish a state of heightened activation, which is usually beneficial for implementing reactions towards a stressor. Chronic stress, however, has negative consequences and can lead to a heightened risk of coronary diseases. The various effects of cortisol are mediated by the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). In the central nervous system, this receptor is widely distributed in the cortex, hippocampus, amygdala and thalamus, amongst other regions (Morimoto et al., 1996). Different genetic variants of GR can alter the sensitivity for stress episodes (Ridder et al., 2005).

In this project we want to study the impact of different variants of the GR gene on cognitive processes, especially in regard to selective visual attention. Top-down attention and bottom-up attention are two complementary forms of selective visual attention. Top-down selection is driven by the current behavioral goals or long-term cognitive strategies, and is determined by a deliberate prioritizing of some stimuli over others. In contrast, bottom-up selection relies on filtering the raw sensory input for salient features. We want to determine if genetic variations of the GR gene modulate these types of selective visual attention differently.