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Researchers use computational models to study fear
Date:9/30/2009

COLUMBIA, Mo. The brain is a complex system made of billions of neurons and thousands of connections that relate to every human feeling, including one of the strongest emotions, fear. Most neurological fear studies have been rooted in fear-conditioning experiments. Now, University of Missouri researchers have started using computational models of the brain, making it easier to study the brain's connections. Guoshi Li, an electrical and computer engineering doctoral student, has discovered new evidence on how the brain reacts to fear, including important findings that could help victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"Computational models make it much easier to study the brain because they can effectively integrate different types of information related to a problem into a computational framework and analyze possible neural mechanisms from a systems perspective. We simulate activity and test a variety of "what if" scenarios without having to use human subjects in a rapid and inexpensive way," Li said.

From previous experiments, scientists have found that fear can subside when overcome with fear extinction memory, but it is not permanently lost. Fear extinction is a process in which a conditioned response to a stimulant that produces fear gradually diminishes over time as subjects, such as rats in auditory fear experiments, learn to disassociate a response from a stimulus. One theory has concluded that fear extinction memory deletes fear memory, and another concluded that fear memory is not lost, but is inhibited by extinction memory as fear can recover with the passage of time after extinction.

"Fear extinction memory is not well understood, and our computational model can capture the neuron response well in rat during auditory fear conditioning with a mixture of mathematics and biophysical data," said Li. "Our main contribution is that our model predicts that fear memory is only partially erased by extinction, and inhib
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Contact: Kelsey Jackson
JacksonKN@missouri.edu
573-882-8353
University of Missouri-Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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