Fear study re­veals brain’s re­ac­tion to things that go bump in night

The Korea Times - - SCIENCE - (UPI)

Sci­en­tists have man­aged to mea­sure the neu­ral re­sponse to scary sounds, of­fer­ing new in­sights into how the brain is af­fected by fear.

When sen­sory in­puts are pro­cessed by the brain, some are en­coded in longterm mem­ory banks. Of­ten, these mem­o­ries are linked with pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences.

An­i­mals, like mice, for ex­am­ple, can be trained to as­so­ciate cer­tain sounds with a re­ward.

“If you look at the pat­terns of brain cell ac­tiv­ity in the amyg­dala, you can know whether the an­i­mal is ex­pect­ing a re­ward or fear­ing a pun­ish­ment,” Bo Li, re­searcher at Cold Spring Har­bor Lab­o­ra­tory, said in a news re­lease.

When this amyg­dala-based learn­ing process mal­func­tions, anx­i­ety dis­or­ders and de­pres­sion can de­velop.

To bet­ter un­der­stand how the sys­tem works, sci­en­tists trained mice to as­so­ciate a spe­cific sound with ei­ther a re­ward or pun­ish­ment. The ward was a sip of water, while the pun­ish­ment was an irk­some puff of air.

Brain imag­ing tech­nol­ogy al­lowed sci­en­tists to track neu­ral re­sponses to the tonal trig­ger.

In the be­gin­ning, the sound trig­gered neu­rons to fire ran­domly, but once an as­so­ci­a­tion was formed, re­searchers were able to rec­og­nize a pat­tern in the way neu­rons fired. The pat­tern was sim­i­lar to the neu­ral pat­tern trig­gered by the ac­tual pun­ish­ment.

For mice that re­ceived a re­ward, the neu­ral re­sponse to the tone fol­lowed a pat­tern sim­i­lar to the pat­tern trig­gered by the ex­pe­ri­ence of re­ceiv­ing a sip of water.

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