30 May 2011

Switching off fear

Researchers at Stanford University have found that stimulating a particular brain circuit can counter fear. Pulses of light triggered the stimulation in mice and boosted their willingness to take risks. Inhibiting it had the opposite effect and made them more timid.

Neuroscientist Professor Ken Deisseroth targeted a circuit within the amygdala area of the limbic brain working within the specialist field of optogenetics, where nerve cells become photo-sensitive. The action of the cell can therefore be controlled and switched on or off by using different wavelengths of light.

The mice became much more comfortable in situations they would otherwise be wary of – such as being in wide open spaces. As soon as the light was pulsed into the brain circuit, the mice were much more willing to explore. Yet changing the pulse to a different wavelength turned the mice much more anxious.

This could be the beginning of some interesting debates around treating human anxiety and panic, which of course can be debilitating for many people.

I wonder if optogenetics is responsible for our behaviour in laser games and discos?!

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