Anxiety – without it, we would all be dead. It’s that essential physiological fight or flight response that helps pretty much all living things to survive. For many, however, anxiety is triggered unnecessarily and instead of being life-saving, it’s life-destroying.
With an estimated 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety disorders, it’s quickly become the most common mental illness in the US.
That’s why new research into anxiety treatments are becoming essential. One new discovery from the University of California might help us gain a little more insight.
The study, due to be published in the journal Neuron, has found specialized brain cells that appear to control levels of anxiety. Unfortunately, these so-called ‘anxiety cells’ are in mice and are yet to be discovered in the human brain.
However, the cells, found at the very bottom of the hippocampus, are partially responsible for mood and anxiety.
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Mazen Kheirbek, Ph.D. explains the teams’ aims, saying, “We wanted to understand where the emotional information that goes into the feeling of anxiety is encoded within the brain.”
The scientists investigated this region more closely by measuring the output of hundreds of cells in mice’s hippocampi. They found that when they encountered anxious situations, such as approaching open spaces, the neurons became active.
They then used a technique called optogenetics to control individual neurons using pulses of light. When they ‘turned down’ the activity they found the mice became less anxious. Conversely, when they turned those cells up, the mice became more anxious.
Of course, this is only a small step towards discovering more possible treatments for anxiety, but it’s a step in the right direction.
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