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How the gut feeling shapes fear
Date:5/22/2014

tched from a negative to a neutral stimulus, the rats without gut instinct required significantly longer to associate the sound with the new, neutral situation. This also fits with the results of a recently published study conducted by other researchers, which found that stimulation of the vagus nerve facilitates relearning, says Meyer.

These findings are also of interest to the field of psychiatry, as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, is linked to the association of neutral stimuli with fear triggered by extreme experiences. Stimulation of the vagus nerve could help people with PTSD to once more associate the triggering stimuli with neutral experiences. Vagus nerve stimulation is already used today to treat epilepsy and, in some cases, depression.

Stomach influences signalling in the brain

"A lower level of innate fear, but a longer retention of learned fear this may sound contradictory," says Meyer. However, innate and conditioned fear are two different behavioural domains in which different signalling systems in the brain are involved. On closer investigation of the rats' brains, the researchers found that the loss of signals from the abdomen changes the production of certain signalling substances, so called neurotransmitters, in the brain.

"We were able to show for the first time that the selective interruption of the signal path from the stomach to the brain changed complex behavioural patterns. This has traditionally been attributed to the brain alone," says Meyer. The study shows clearly that the stomach also has a say in how we respond to fear; however, what it says, i.e. precisely what it signals, is not yet clear. The researchers hope, however, that they will be able to further clarify the role of the vagus nerve and the dialogue between brain and body in future studies.


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Contact: Urs Meyer
urs-meyer@ethz.ch
41-788-981-790
ETH Zurich
Source:Eurekalert

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