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David Anderson to discuss what model organisms can teach us about emotion
Date:2/20/2010

Scientists know little about how the brain creates and controls emotions an uncertainty that presents a major obstacle in the effort to develop treatments for emotional disorders. "The study of the brain science of emotion is in its infancy," says Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator David Anderson, "yet emotional and psychiatric disorders continue to take an enormous toll on human society."

On February 20, 2010, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Annual Meeting in San Diego, Anderson, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, will discuss how studies of model organisms such as mice and fruit flies can improve scientists' understanding of the neural basis of emotion. That understanding, he says, is essential for developing more specific therapies for emotion disorders such as depression, anxiety, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Anderson explains that while functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) studies of the human brain have linked neural activity in specific regions of the brain to particular emotional responses, there are limits to what can be learned from these types of studies. "We cannot tell which of these hotspots represents the actual cause of an emotional response, and which of them represents a reaction to the response," he says.

To makes that distinction, scientists must alter the activity of brain circuits in a targeted way, and then determine the consequences of the changes on emotional behavior. Such experiments are not possible on human subjects, and so scientists turn to model organisms. Anderson, whose own studies at Caltech and HHMI's Janelia Farm Research Campus explore the link between neural circuitry and emotional behaviors such as fear and aggression in both mice and fruit flies, will discuss the power and limitations of these types of experiments.

"We are in the midst of a revolution in the development of new technologies f
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Contact: Jennifer Michalowski
michalow@hhmi.org
301-215-8576
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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