Researchers found “anxious cells in the brain”
Scientists have found specialized brain cells that control anxiety levels in mice.
The findings, reported Wednesday in the journal neuron, could eventually lead to better treatment for anxiety disorders, which affects nearly one in five adults in the United States.
“Our current treatments have a lot of drawbacks,” said Mazen Kheirbek, an assistant professor at the university of California, San Francisco, and the author of the study. “This is another goal that we can try to push for new therapies in this area.”
Joshua Gordon, director of the national institute of mental health, says the discovery of anxious cells is just the latest example of the great progress scientists have made in understanding how anxiety works in the brain.
“If we can learn enough, we can develop tools to open and close key people who regulate anxiety,” says Gordon.
Anxiety disorders involve excessive worry and will not go away. These include generalized anxiety disorders, panic attacks and social anxiety.
Kheirbek and a team of researchers, including several researchers at Columbia University, found cells in the hippocampus, a region thought to involve anxiety and navigation and memory.
They did it by studying some anxious mice, Kheirbek said. “Mice tend to be afraid of open Spaces,” he said. So the team put the rats in a maze of open Spaces. The researchers then monitored the activity of brain cells at the bottom of the hippocampus.
Kheirbek said: “we found that these cells became more active as long as the animals entered the area of anxiety.
The team began to answer a simple question, Kheirbek said:
“If we turn down the activity, the animals become less anxious, and we find that they actually become less anxious, and they actually tend to want to explore the open arms of the maze.
When the researchers adjusted the cells’ activity, the mice became more anxious and didn’t want to explore.
Kheirbek says these cells in the hippocampus are more than anxious. “These cells may be part of an extended circuit of information about animal learning anxiety.
For example, the cells in the hippocampus communicate with another brain region called the hypothalamus, telling the mice when to avoid danger. Kheirbek says other parts of the anxiety circuit may detect dangerous smells or sounds.
“You can think of this paper as a brick in a big wall,” Gordon said. In recent years, he says, scientists have been quick to find and assemble other bricks.
They need it because anxiety disorders are “very common,” Gordon said. “They hit us in the most important years of their lives, and our treatment is only partially effective at best.”