Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

What are you scared of?

Date:
November 11, 2013
Source:
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)
Summary:
What do bullies and sex have in common? Based on work by scientists, it seems that the same part of the brain reacts to both. The researchers found that – at least in mice – different types of fear are processed by different groups of neurons, even if the animals act out those fears in the same way. The findings could have implications for addressing phobias and panic attacks in humans.

Scaredy-mouse? A mouse’s brain responds differently to the threat of pain, of other mice, or of rats.
Credit: John Wood

What do bullies and sex have in common? Based on work by scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Monterotondo, Italy, it seems that the same part of the brain reacts to both. In a study published today in Nature Neuroscience, the researchers found that -- at least in mice -- different types of fear are processed by different groups of neurons, even if the animals act out those fears in the same way. The findings could have implications for addressing phobias and panic attacks in humans.

"We found that there seems to be a circuit for handling fear of predators -- which has been described anatomically as a kind of defence circuit -- but fear of members of the same species uses the reproductive circuit instead," says Bianca Silva, who carried out the work, "and fear of pain goes through yet another part of the brain."

Working in the lab of Cornelius Gross at EMBL, Silva exposed mice to three threats: another mouse (chosen for being particularly aggressive), a rat (the mouse's natural predator) or a mild electric shock to the feet. The mice showed the same typical fearful behaviours -- running away, freezing -- in response to all threats, but their brains painted a different picture. When the scientists mapped the brain activity of mice exposed to the aggressive mouse and the rat , they saw that different parts of a region called the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) 'lit up' depending on the threat. Fear of the mouse seemed to activate the bottom and sides of the VMH, while fear of the rat seemed to be processed by the VMH's central and upper areas. This was confirmed when the scientists used drugs to block only the neurons in those 'rat fear' areas: mice were no longer afraid of the rat, but were still afraid of the mouse, showing that mice need this brain circuit specifically to process fear of predators.

The human brain has similar circuits, and we too experience different kinds of fear, so the results hint at the possibility of developing more efficient treatments for specific phobias or panic attacks, by targeting only the relevant region of the brain.

For their part, the EMBL scientists plan to probe these fears further.

"What we're interested in, in the long-run, is if these results represent a kind of mental state," says Cornelius Gross, who led the work. "If so, mice should be able to be in that state without expressing it in their behaviour -- do they re-live that fear, for example? These are not easy questions to ask in the mouse, but we're looking into them."

Gross's lab are also looking at how these different fears -- and the neural circuits that process them -- may have evolved. Working with Detlev Arendt's group at EMBL Heidelberg, they have discovered a similar brain region in a marine worm thought to closely resemble our ancestors from 600 million years ago. Now the team is exploring the possibility that this represents an ancestral core fear circuit that those ancestors handed down to us all, from worms to man.

This work will also be presented at SfN's Neuroscience 2013 conference on 11 and 13 November.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bianca A Silva, Camilla Mattucci, Piotr Krzywkowski, Emanuele Murana, Anna Illarionova, Valery Grinevich, Newton S Canteras, Davide Ragozzino, Cornelius T Gross. Independent hypothalamic circuits for social and predator fear. Nature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3573

Cite This Page:

European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). "What are you scared of?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131111091353.htm>.
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). (2013, November 11). What are you scared of?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131111091353.htm
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). "What are you scared of?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131111091353.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The brains of artists aren't really left-brain or right-brain, but rather have extra neural matter in visual and motor control areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins