Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain's habenula signals how bad things could be

Date:
July 28, 2014
Source:
University College London
Summary:
An evolutionarily ancient and tiny part of the brain tracks expectations about nasty events, according to new research. The study demonstrates for the first time that the human habenula, half the size of a pea, tracks predictions about negative events, like painful electric shocks, suggesting a role in learning from bad experiences.

An evolutionarily ancient and tiny part of the brain tracks expectations about nasty events, finds new UCL research.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates for the first time that the human habenula, half the size of a pea, tracks predictions about negative events, like painful electric shocks, suggesting a role in learning from bad experiences.

Brain scans from 23 healthy volunteers showed that the habenula activates in response to pictures associated with painful electric shocks, with the opposite occurring for pictures that predicted winning money.

Previous studies in animals have found that habenula activity leads to avoidance as it suppresses dopamine, a brain chemical that drives motivation. In animals, habenula cells have been found to fire when bad things happen or are anticipated.

"The habenula tracks our experiences, responding more the worse something is expected to be," says senior author Dr Jonathan Roiser of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. "For example, the habenula responds much more strongly when an electric shock is almost certain than when it is unlikely. In this study we showed that the habenula doesn't just express whether something leads to negative events or not; it signals quite how much bad outcomes are expected."

During the experiment, healthy volunteers were placed inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, and brain images were collected at high resolution because the habenula is so small. Volunteers were shown a random sequence of pictures each followed by a set chance of a good or bad outcome, occasionally pressing a button simply to show they were paying attention. Habenula activation tracked the changing expectation of bad and good events.

"Fascinatingly, people were slower to press the button when the picture was associated with getting shocked, even though their response had no bearing on the outcome." says lead author Dr Rebecca Lawson, also at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. "Furthermore, the slower people responded, the more reliably their habenula tracked associations with shocks. This demonstrates a crucial link between the habenula and motivated behaviour, which may be the result of dopamine suppression."

The habenula has previously been linked to depression, and this study shows how it could be involved in causing symptoms such low motivation, pessimism and a focus on negative experiences. A hyperactive habenula could cause people to make disproportionately negative predictions.

"Other work shows that ketamine, which has profound and immediate benefits in patients who failed to respond to standard antidepressant medication, specifically dampens down habenula activity," says Dr Roiser. "Therefore, understanding the habenula could help us to develop better treatments for treatment-resistant depression."

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rebecca P. Lawson, Ben Seymour, Eleanor Loh, Antoine Lutti, Raymond J. Dolan, Peter Dayan, Nikolaus Weiskopf, and Jonathan P. Roiser. The habenula encodes negative motivational value associated with primary punishment in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1323586111

Cite This Page:

University College London. "Brain's habenula signals how bad things could be." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140728153937.htm>.
University College London. (2014, July 28). Brain's habenula signals how bad things could be. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140728153937.htm
University College London. "Brain's habenula signals how bad things could be." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140728153937.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) New research shows that women who suffer from PTSD are three times more likely to develop a food addiction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Corporal punishment in the United States is on the decline, but there is renewed debate over its use after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. 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