Brain sciences researcher pinpoints brain circuit that triggers fear relapse

February 13, 2018, Texas A&M University
Pharmacogenetic activation of the ventral hippocampus recruits inhibitory interneurons in the medial prefrontal cortex to cause fear relapse. Credit: Texas A&M University

Steve Maren, the Claude H. Everett Jr. '47 Chair of Liberal Arts professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University, and his Emotion and Memory Systems Laboratory (EMSL) have made a breakthrough discovery in the process of fear relapse.

A paper on their findings, called "Hippocampus-driven feed-forward inhibition of the mediates relapse of extinguished fear," was published in the February issue of Nature Neuroscience, a scholarly scientific journal that focuses on original research papers on brain science.

Maren said this discovery could prove helpful for clinicians treating disorders like PTSD.

"Patients often undergo exposure to reduce their fear of situations and stimuli associated with trauma," Maren said. "Although exposure therapy is often effective, pathological fear and anxiety are known to return or 'relapse' under a number of circumstances. This often occurs, for example, when trauma-related stimuli, which have come to be tolerated during therapy, are unexpectedly experienced outside of the clinical context. Relapse of fear after therapy has been estimated to occur in upwards of two-thirds of patients undergoing ."

In their research, Maren and his team studied the relationship between three parts of the brain: the hippocampus, which is involved in memory; the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in executive control and regulation; and the amygdala, which is involved in emotion. While the neurocircuit between the three have long been known to process fear, this study has been able to pinpoint connections between the hippocampus and a specific type of cell in the prefrontal cortex that is involved in a relapse of fear.

Travis Goode, a graduate student and member of the research team, said, "This has wide-spread implications for treating disorders in the future, as we now know what part of the brain to target."

Other members of the research team from Texas A&M include Jingji Jin, Thomas F. Giustino, Qian Wang, Gillian M. Acca, and Paul J. Fitzgerald. EMSL also collaborated with the Sah Laboratory in Australia, led by Pankaj Sah.

Explore further: Study offers new insight for preventing fear relapse after trauma

More information: Roger Marek et al, Hippocampus-driven feed-forward inhibition of the prefrontal cortex mediates relapse of extinguished fear, Nature Neuroscience (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41593-018-0073-9

Related Stories

Study offers new insight for preventing fear relapse after trauma

November 29, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- In a new study, University of Michigan researchers identified brain circuits in rats that are responsible for the return of fear after it has been suppressed behaviorally.

Better sleep, less fear

October 23, 2017
Higher quality sleep patterns are associated with reduced activity in brain regions involved in fear learning, according to a study of young adults published in Journal Neuroscience. The results suggest that baseline sleep ...

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 ...

Medial prefrontal cortex linked to fear response

December 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—In a new paper published in the current issue of Neuron, Harvard Medical School researchers at McLean Hospital report that increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain is linked to decreased ...

Weakening communication between two parts of the brain in mice reduced their fear levels

April 10, 2017
Erasing unwanted memories is still the stuff of science fiction, but Weizmann Institute scientists have now managed to erase one type of memory in mice. In a study reported in Nature Neuroscience, they succeeded in shutting ...

Teen brains facilitate recovery from traumatic memories

May 25, 2016
Unique connections in the adolescent brain make it possible to easily diminish fear memories and avoid anxiety later in life, according to a new study by Weill Cornell Medicine researchers. The findings may have important ...

Recommended for you

To sleep, perchance to forget

February 17, 2018
The debate in sleep science has gone on for a generation. People and other animals sicken and die if they are deprived of sleep, but why is sleep so essential?

Newborn babies who suffered stroke regain language function in opposite side of brain

February 17, 2018
It's not rare that a baby experiences a stroke around the time it is born. Birth is hard on the brain, as is the change in blood circulation from the mother to the neonate. At least 1 in 4,000 babies are affected shortly ...

Lab-grown human cerebellar cells yield clues to autism

February 16, 2018
Increasing evidence has linked autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with dysfunction of the brain's cerebellum, but the details have been unclear. In a new study, researchers at Boston Children's Hospital used stem cell technology ...

Fragile X syndrome neurons can be restored, study shows

February 16, 2018
Fragile X syndrome is the most frequent cause of intellectual disability in males, affecting one out of every 3,600 boys born. The syndrome can also cause autistic traits, such as social and communication deficits, as well ...

Brain-machine interface study suggests how brains prepare for action

February 16, 2018
Somewhere right now in Pyeongchang, South Korea, an Olympic skier is thinking through the twists and spins she'll make in the aerial competition, a speed skater is visualizing how he'll sneak past a competitor on the inside ...

Humans blink strategically in response to environmental demands

February 16, 2018
If a brief event in our surroundings is about to happen, it is probably better not to blink during that moment. A team of researchers at the Centre for Cognitive Science from Technische Universität Darmstadt published a ...

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.