New York, Feb 1: At times, a simple hunch can help the humankind. A team of researchers had intuitions that understanding a different brain area could give more clues into how it processes anxiety.
Their instincts paid off. Using mouse models, the team has found a neural circuit that connects the lateral septum (LS) area of the brain with other structures in a manner that directly influences anxiety.
“Our study has identified a new neural circuit that plays a causal role in promoting anxiety states,” said David Anderson, the Seymour Benzer professor of biology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
“Till date, we didn’t know enough about how the brain processes anxiety. This study opens up a new line of investigation into the brain circuitry that controls anxiety,” added Anderson.
“These neurons are actually inhibitory neurons, meaning that we would expect them to shut off other neurons in the brain,” he explained.
The most surprising part of these findings is that the outputs from the LS, which were believed primarily to act as a brake on anxiety, actually increase anxiety.
Knowing the sign – positive or negative – of the effect of these cells on anxiety is a critical first step to understand what kind of drug one might want to develop to manipulate these cells or their molecular constituents.
“We hope these findings would help develop new, rational therapies for psychiatric disorders in near future,” said Anderson.
The team would continue to map out this area of the brain in greater detail to understand more about its role in controlling stress-induced anxiety, said the study that appeared in the journal Cell.