'Anxiety cells' identified in the brain's hippocampus

Posted on February 2, 2018

The researchers found the anxiety cells in the brains of mice, inside a structure called the hippocampus. They were dubbed so as they only fire when the animals are in places innately frightening to them, sending messages to other parts of the brain that trigger anxious behavior, such as retreating from a dangerous exposed area for mice. It has been known to be the only cells that represent the state of anxiety and a direct, rapid pathway that lets animals respond to anxiety-provoking places without needing to go through higher-order brain regions.

In the current paradigm of mental health, anxiety is healthy to a degree. When anxiety is overestimated, it becomes a problem. To understand how the brain processes healthy anxiety, researchers traced the output of those cells to the hypothalamus, which is known to control behaviors associated with anxiety.

By turning the anxiety cells off and on using a technique called optogenetics that allows scientists to control the activity of neurons using beams of light, the researchers found that the anxiety cells control anxiety behaviors. When the cells were silenced, the mice stopped producing fear-related behaviors, wandering onto elevated platforms and away from protective walls.

"Now that we've found these cells in the hippocampus, it opens up new areas for exploring treatment ideas that we didn't know existed before," says the study's lead author Jessica Jimenez, PhD, an MD/PhD student at Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons. The discovery of the anxiety cells raises the possibility of finding treatments that target them and reduce anxiety and once more confirms the relevance of research on animals in studying similarities to human behavior.


Source material from Science Daily

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