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Fear Factor- How it Works in the Brain


What are you afraid of? Like it or not your brain knows and now, scientists are starting to understand how it does it.

Scientists at Columbia University in New York have found the neurons responsible for preventing mice from forming fearful memories by looking at a part of the brain called the hippocampus [no, that isn’t where hippos go for an education; yes, that was a awful attempt at a joke].

Using a new technique, scientists could watch individual neurons as the memories were forming, in order to figure out what parts of the brain processes and store the information. When they did this, they found that there are inhibitory cells — called interneurons — that sort out fear from a particular memory. Yes, you read that correctly, the fear is stored separately from the memory.

Dr. Attila Losonczy, one of the head researchers on the project had this to say:

“These cells are activated by the unpleasant salient event and they act somewhat like a filter. They may function to block out unwanted information related to this strong, salient event.”

With this information, they conditioned mice to expect negative stimulus when in a particular context; so much so, that even when they did not receive any negative stimulus, they still were fearful of the environment.

However, when they deactivated the interneurons the mice no longer had fear. In other words, they did not form fearful memories of that particular area like they would normally do when the interneurons were active.

This study has serious potential to help people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or other fear/anxiety driven disorders.

“If we understand how the circuits in our brain influence memory under normal conditions, we can then try to understand what actually went wrong during psychiatric disorders.” — Dr Losonczy.

And if that isn’t cool enough, check out this video showing molecules which are used to form memories, traveling through a rats brain. Basically, the rat is forming memories and we are seeing it!

For me the brain is the biggest mystery of the human body and now, we are finally figuring out ways to unlock it’s secrets.

2 responses

  1. Poor mice. But this one is interesting … my favorite so far!


    February 26, 2014 at 3:26 pm

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