Despite being overlooked in theoretical models of stress-related disorders, differences in cerebellar structure and function are consistently reported in studies of individuals exposed to current and early-life stressors. However, the mediating processes through which stress impacts upon cerebellar function are currently unknown. The aim of the current experiment was to test the effects of experimentally-induced acute stress on cerebellar functioning, using a classic, forward saccadic adaptation paradigm in healthy, young men and women. Stress induction was achieved by employing the Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST), a task employing mental arithmetic and negative social feedback to generate significant physiological and endocrine stress responses. Saccadic adaptation was elicited using the double-step target paradigm. In the experiment, 48 participants matched for gender and age were exposed to either a stress (n = 25) or a control (n = 23) condition. Saliva for cortisol analysis was collected before, immediately after, and 10, and 30 min after the MIST. Saccadic adaptation was assessed approximately 10 min after stress induction, when cortisol levels peaked. Participants in the stress group reported significantly more stress symptoms and exhibited greater total cortisol output compared to controls. The stress manipulation was associated with slower learning rates in the stress group, while control participants acquired adaptation faster. Learning rates were negatively associated with cortisol output and mood disturbance. Results suggest that experimentally-induced stress slowed acquisition of cerebellar-dependent saccadic adaptation, related to increases in cortisol output. These ‘proof-of-principle’ data demonstrate that stress modulates cerebellar-related functions.
- Saccadic adaptation
- Eye movements