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.
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.
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.
Although human cells have an estimated 20,000 genes, only a fraction of those are turned on at any given time, depending on the cell’s needs — which can change by the minute or hour. To find out what those genes are doing, researchers need tools that can manipulate their status on similarly short timescales. The […]
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