Neuroscientists discover brain circuits involved in emotion

brain
MRI brain scan

Neuroscientists have discovered a brain pathway that underlies the emotional behaviours critical for survival.

New research by the University of Bristol, published in the Journal of Physiology today [23 April], has identified a chain of neural connections which links central survival circuits to the spinal cord, causing the body to freeze when experiencing fear.

Understanding how these central work is a fundamental step towards developing effective treatments for such as anxiety, panic attacks and phobias.

An important brain region responsible for how humans and animals respond to danger is known as the PAG (periaqueductal grey), and it can trigger responses such as freezing, a high heart rate, increase in blood pressure and the desire for flight or fight.

This latest research has discovered a leading from the PAG to a highly localised part of the cerebellum, called the pyramis. The research went on to show that the pyramis is involved in generating freezing behaviour when central survival networks are activated during innate and learnt threatening situations.

The pyramis may therefore serve as an important point of convergence for different survival networks in order to react to an emotionally challenging situation.

Dr Stella Koutsikou, first author of the study and Research Associate in the School of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Bristol, said: "There is a growing consensus that understanding the neural circuits underlying fear behaviour is a fundamental step towards developing effective treatments for behavioural changes associated with emotional disorders."

Professor Bridget Lumb, Professor of Systems Neuroscience, added: "Our work introduces the novel concept that the cerebellum is a promising target for therapeutic strategies to manage dysregulation of emotional states such as panic disorders and phobias."

The researchers involved in this work are all members of Bristol Neuroscience which fosters interactions across one of the largest communities of neuroscientists in the UK.

Professor Richard Apps said "This is a great example of how Bristol Neuroscience brings together expertise in different fields of neuroscience leading to exciting new insights into brain function."

More information: 'Neural substrates underlying fear-evoked freezing: the periaqueductal grey – cerebellar link' by Stella Koutsikou, Jonathan J. Crook, Emma V. Earl, J. Lianne Leith, Thomas C. Watson, Bridget M. Lumb and Richard Apps (2014) in the Journal of Physiology DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2013.268714

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Different brain regions process different types of fear

Nov 11, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—What do bullies and sex have in common? Based on work by scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Monterotondo, Italy, it seems that the same part of the brain ...

Spinal nerve connections develop using simple rules

Jan 09, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Repairing spinal injuries with stem cells may be a step closer thanks to scientists at the Universities of Bristol and Plymouth. A new study, published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, employ ...

Increasing brain acidity may reduce anxiety

Feb 25, 2014

Increasing acidity in the brain's emotional control center reduces anxiety, according to an animal study published February 26 in the Journal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest a new mechanism for the body's control of fea ...

Recommended for you

Children with autism have extra synapses in brain

8 hours ago

Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is due to a slowdown in a normal brain "pruning" process during development, according to a study by neuroscientists ...

Learning to play the piano? Sleep on it!

10 hours ago

According to researchers at the University of Montreal, the regions of the brain below the cortex play an important role as we train our bodies' movements and, critically, they interact more effectively after ...

User comments