New York, NY Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers have found the first evidence that selective activation of the dentate gyrus, a portion of the hippocampus, can reduce anxiety without affecting learning. The findings suggest that therapies that target this brain region could be used to treat certain anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), with minimal cognitive side effects. The study, conducted in mice, was published today in the online edition of the journal Neuron.
The dentate gyrus is known to play a key role in learning. Some evidence suggests that the structure also contributes to anxiety. "But until now no one has been able to figure out how the hippocampus could be involved in both processes," said senior author Rene Hen, PhD, professor of neuroscience and pharmacology (in psychiatry) at CUMC.
"It turns out that different parts of the dentate gyrus have somewhat different functions, with the dorsal portion largely dedicated to learning and the ventral portion dedicated to anxiety," said lead author Mazen A. Kheirbek, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at CUMC.
To examine the role of the dentate gyrus in learning and anxiety, the investigators used a state-of-the-art technique called optogenetics, in which light-sensitive proteins, or opsins, are genetically inserted into neurons in the brains of mice. Neurons with these genes can then be selectively activated or silenced through the application of light (via a fiber-optic strand), allowing researchers to study the function of the cells in real time. Previously, the only way to study the dentate gyrus was to silence portions of it using such long-term manipulations as drugs or lesions, techniques that yielded conflicting results.
In the current study, opsins were inserted into dentate gyrus granule cells (the principal cells of the dentate gyrus). The researchers then activated or silence
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Columbia University Medical Center