A communication pathway between two brain structures appears to control anxiety levels

Authors

Our continued interest in understanding Mind-Brain-Body-Science, motivating us to follow the developments in this regard, more specifically communication channels in neural system.

English: Complete neuron cell diagram. Neurons...

English: Complete neuron cell diagram. Neurons (also known as neurones and nerve cells) are electrically excitable cells in the nervous system that process and transmit information. In vertebrate animals, neurons are the core components of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To that end, this morning we came across the following article that explored the communication pathways that control anxiety levels. Tye* and her colleagues, in a step toward uncovering better targets,  have discovered a communication pathway between two brain structures that appears to control anxiety levels. By turning the volume of this communication up and down in mice, the researchers were able to boost and reduce anxiety levels.

The two brain structures that appear to involved in this process are: the amygdala and the ventral hippocampus

English: An anxious person

English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 How these two brain structures interact:

To study those interactions, the researchers turned to optogenetics, which allows them to engineer neurons to turn their electrical activity on or off in response to light. For this study, the researchers modified a set of neurons in the basolateral amygdala (BLA); these neurons send long projections to cells of the ventral hippocampus.

The researchers tested the mice’s anxiety levels by measuring how much time they were willing to spend in a situation that normally makes them anxious. Mice are naturally anxious in open spaces where they are easy targets for predators, so when placed in such an area, they tend to stay near the edges.

“When the researchers activated the connection between cells in the amygdala and the hippocampus, the mice spent more time at the edges of an enclosure, suggesting they felt anxious. When the researchers shut off this pathway, the mice became more adventurous and willing to explore open spaces. However, when these mice had this pathway turned back on, they scampered back to the security of the edges.”

In future studies, the MIT team plans to investigate the effects of the amygdala on other targets in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which has also been implicated in anxiety. Deciphering these circuits could be an important step toward finding better drugs to help treat anxiety.

*Kay Tye, an asst. prof. of brain and cognitive sciences and member of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

Source:

rdmag

MIT

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