Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered two adjacent clusters of nerve cells in the brains of mice whose activation levels upon seeing a visual threat spell the difference between a bold or even fierce one and timid response.
Research Opens up Door for Future Work on Fear and Courage
Situated right in the middle of the brain, these clusters, or nuclei, each give out signals to a very different area of the brain, triggering opposite behaviors in the face of a threat that is visual in nature. By selective alteration of the activation levels of the two nuclei, the researchers could dispose of the mice to duck into a hiding space or freeze or to fiercely stand their ground, when it is approached by a simulated predator.
Andrew Huberman, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology and of ophthalmology said that brains of the people probably come with equivalent circuitry. As such, figuring out ways to noninvasively shift the balance between the signaling strengths of the two nuclei quite in advance of, or in the midst of, situations that people think of as threatening might assist people with excessive post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, or anxiety lead more normal and comfortable lives.
Professor Huberman, the senior author of a paper that describes the experimental results, said that this opens up the door to future work on as to how to shift human beings from paralysis and fear to being able to face challenges in ways that make our lives much better. Graduate student Lindsey Salay is the lead author of this paper.
The said research has been published online on Nature.