Study provides insights into how amygdala regulates emotions and social behavior

October 12, 2017 by Dan Gordon, University of California, Los Angeles
Amygdala
Location of the amygdala in the human brain. Image: Wikipedia.

UCLA researchers have shown for the first time a comprehensive picture of cell diversity in the amygdala, a vital brain region involved in the regulation of emotions and social behavior, as well as in autism spectrum disorders, depression and other mental disorders. As part of the study, the team also reported on a new method for systematically linking the distinct types of brain cells to specific behavioral functions.

"The level of diversity of cells within the brain has not been well understood," said study senior author Weizhe Hong, assistant professor of biological chemistry and neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "By revealing the many types of cells in the amygdala and then developing a method for studying the functional role of these cells, our findings can pave the way to unraveling some of the mysteries in how this important part of the brain works and what goes wrong in ."

The findings are published in the October 11 issue of the journal Neuron.

Unlike other organs in the body, the brain is known to consist of highly heterogeneous types of cells—a heterogeneity that is at the root of cognitive functions such as learning, memory, emotional arousal and decision-making, as well as brain disorders. Using recently developed sequencing technology that allows researchers to conduct rapid analyses of individual cells, the UCLA group found that the amygdala has much greater cellular diversity than previously known—featuring 16 types of neurons and many types of non-neuronal cells.

Describing the diversity of cells within the amygdala was only a first step. "Once we know these different cell types, we want to understand how distinct types of are linked to behavioral functions and disease conditions," Hong said. "In the past, there was no systematic way of doing this."

Hong and colleagues overcame a long-standing technical hurdle to develop a method, called Act-seq, for systematically linking brain-cell types to behavioral functions. Using the new method, they pinpointed two of the 16 neuronal types in the amygdala as being involved in stress-related behaviors. The new method also facilitates the study of acute molecular and cellular changes in the brain in injury and disease. For example, the researchers found a substantial activation of glial cells, a type of supporting in the , immediately after a seizure.

The team is continuing to use the new research tool to investigate how the amygdala controls emotional and social behaviors, as well as how this goes wrong in , such as and depression. "We expect to learn a great deal by breaking down the 's individual components and their functions," Hong said.

Explore further: Adult brains produce new cells in previously undiscovered area

More information: Detecting Activated Cell Populations Using Single-Cell RNA-Seq. Neuron. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2017.09.026

Related Stories

Adult brains produce new cells in previously undiscovered area

August 15, 2017
A University of Queensland discovery may lead to new treatments for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). UQ Queensland Brain Institute scientists have discovered that new brain cells are produced ...

Learning and unlearning to fear: The two faces of noradrenaline

September 18, 2017
Emotional learning can create strong memories and powerful emotional responses, but flexible behavior demands that these responses be inhibited when they are no longer appropriate. Scientists at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute ...

Brain region mediates pleasure of eating

August 22, 2017
Providing the body with food is essential for survival. But even when full, we can still take pleasure in eating. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried and the Friedrich Miescher Institute ...

Study could help explain link between seizures and psychiatric disorders

June 6, 2017
In a new study published in Cell Reports, scientists at the Gladstone Institutes identified different types of neurons in a brain region called the reticular thalamus. A better understanding of these cells could eventually ...

Allen Cell Types Database updated with new data and models

March 17, 2017
The Allen Institute for Brain Science has released additional data and computer models of cell activity for inclusion in the Allen Cell Types Database: a publicly available tool for researchers to explore and understand the ...

Scientists identify brain circuit that drives pleasure-inducing behavior

March 22, 2017
Scientists have long believed that the central amygdala, a structure located deep within the brain, is linked with fear and responses to unpleasant events.

Recommended for you

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.