NEURONS in the hippocampus region of the brain strongly influence a person’s anxiety levels and risk-taking behaviour, a study from Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, which included colleagues from Brazil, has shown.
Targeted Anxiety Treatments
The findings could provide the basis for new, more targeted treatments for anxiety and associated conditions, such as depression, that do not cause side effects. These insights into the neurological mechanisms that help explain different risk-taking behaviours could also improve general understanding of how the brain works.
“It is fascinating how different regions of the same brain structure control distinct behaviours and how they interact with each other. Identifying specific circuits that underlie either cognitive or emotional processes is crucial for the general understanding of brain function and for more specific drug development to treat disorders,” commented Dr Sanja Mikulovic, Uppsala University.
Currently, doctors often prescribe antidepressants to patients whose anxiety leads to dysfunctionality and impacts upon their daily lives; however, these drugs can have major side effects, such as apathy, because they target the entire brain rather than focussing on the specific areas they need to.
Manipulating OLM Cells
In the new study, the authors showed that when neurons known as OLM cells are stimulated, they produce the same brain rhythm observed in animals that feel safe in a threatening environment, such as when they are hiding from a predator that is close by. The researchers were then able to modulate anxiety and risk-taking behaviour by manipulating OLM cells.
The team also found that pharmacological agents are capable of controlling OLM cells, further emphasising the potential for targeted and highly efficient anxiolytics and antidepressants to be created that control anxiety without any side effects.
“This finding may explain why people binge-smoke when they are anxious,” said Dr Richardson Leao, Uppsala University.
Being reluctant to take risks is common in individuals with high levels of anxiety; therefore, controlling risk-taking behaviour could be important for treating pathological anxiety.
The study displays that the hippocampus plays a role in regulating emotions as well as memory and cognition, which is becoming a major area of focus for researchers.
James Coker, Reporter
For the source and further information about the study, click here.