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Circuitry of fear identified
Date:11/11/2010

to gain a better understanding of processes in the amygdala and also of phobias and post-traumatic stress disorders."

Lastly, the studies also revealed that these circuits play an important role in the generalization of fear. The same neurons are involved when fear becomes divorced from the original situation and becomes increasingly general. This may mean, for example, that some people's feelings of claustrophobia in an elevator will develop into a fear of crowds and, finally, fear of leaving the house. Patients with disorders of this kind live in a state of constant anxiety, which remains difficult to treat.

New methods shedding new light on neural circuits

For decades, the function of nerve cells has been studied with the aid of electrophysiological methods, which allow neural excitation to be measured in a particular region of the brain. Over the last few years, this method has increasingly been combined with newer, more powerful approaches. With so-called optogenetic methods, neurons can be stimulated selectively, rapidly and reversibly. This involves the use of light-sensitive membrane proteins from algae, such as channelrhodopsin, which are stimulated by light so as to activate neurons. Membrane proteins can be produced in selected neurons or selected neural circuits, making it possible to study clearly defined individual neurons. At the FMI, optogenetic approaches are being exploited and continuously refined by a number of neurobiology research groups. As well as being used in the work described above, this method has enabled FMI scientists to gain new insights into visual and olfactory processes.


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Contact: Andreas Luethi
andreas.luthi@fmi.ch
41-616-978-271
Friedrich Miescher Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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