"Over time, repeated stressful experiences can literally, not just figuratively, alter the nervous systems of the temperamentally vulnerable. Animal research has shown that when a rat is given a small shock, it shows no marked reaction; when exposed to such stressors for five consecutive days, it shows signs of the stress response; when exposed for seven or eight days, the rat has a seizure, and thereafter this "kindled" animal will seize with little or no provocation. Experiments of this kind are of course not done with people, but Philip Gold and other neuroscientists now think that in human beings, too, by triggering a cascade of chemical reactions, serious chronic stress, particularly in early life, causes changes in the way genes within a brain cell function, permanently altering the neuron's biology. Because they require a particular type of input to turn on or off, only some of a neuron's thousands of genes, each of which is involved in some aspect of cellular structure or communication, are activated at any given moment. When a temperamentally vulnerable person is constantly bombarded with upsetting stimuli, Gold says, the genes that get turned on are those involved in the cellular components of the stress response. Over time the person's nervous system is configured accordingly, becoming a kind of two-way radio that specializes in receiving and transmitting unhappy signals. The concluding chapters in what Gold calls "the natural history of an affective disorder" chronicle the repeated struggles of such people with anxiety or what some call its chronic form, depression"
From the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/199409/gallagher