Anxiety is probably one of the common problems that are affecting people from all parts of the world. People take it as a psychological condition, which is treatable through medicines. But what is less known about anxiety is how it affects your brain.
That is why anxiety is one of the leading research topics. The new research tells that the human brain has specific “anxiety cells” which has opened a new debate to understand anxiety patterns and its function via brain cells.
It is necessary to understand the spread and working of a medical condition in order to make a successful treatment plan.
It is a common belief that anxiety is triggered by certain situations. For example, when you are stranded in a situation where nothing else is helpful, a sudden state of anxiety hits you.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it is triggered inappropriately which sometimes is life-threatening. Unfortunately, anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses in the USA, affecting more than 40 million young adults.
Due to this high prevalence, the scientist is an effort to discover the stress and mechanism of its action on brain completely.
What does the research tell?
This recent study was carried out by Mazen Kheirbek, Ph.D., working at University of California, San Francisco, and another team of researchers from Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) in New York.
Mazen Kheirbek explains the aim of this experiment that the basic purpose of this research plan was to understand the emotional information which is encoded when an anxiety hits the brain. The research finding was written in the form of a research paper and published in a peer review journal “Neuron”, dedicated to brain research. You can read the complete research findings here.
The focus area of the research team was the hippocampus part of the brain. This particular region is important to make memory and navigation. It also plays a vital part to govern mood and emotions. In this way, we can say that stress or anxiety has a great impact on the hippocampus.
Previously, the studies have suggested that anxiety can be reduced if anything alters the activity in ventral region of the hippocampus. This was a base to study the hippocampus in more detail.
The investigation on mice’s brain cells of hippocampi provided a base for assumptions. They were analyzed during the routine tasks. It concluded that when mice brain is in a situation with a possibility of stress, the neurons of the ventral region of the hippocampus are active.
For this reason, the cells of this region were called anxiety cells. The researchers traced these cells, which made from the hippocampus to the hypothalamus region. At the hypothalamus, the part is majorly responsible for controlling anxiety-related behaviors. For human brains, it also controls the secretion of stress hormones, which emphasize their role in anxiety.
These cells also act in avoidance behavior and to increase heart rate, all showing up a stressful condition. The experiment on these cells included the analysis after artificially turning these anxiety cells off.
The researchers used a technique, which is called optogenetics. Using the pulses of light uses this technique to control individual neurons.
By investigating the findings, the researchers found that when these specific cells are switched off, the mice did not exhibit any fear or stress-related behavior. On the other hand, when these cells are switched on, mice are capable of showing a fearful condition or anxious state, regardless of being in a safe or unsafe situation.
There are chances that anxiety is not just confined to these cells, there are other brain parts involved too. But it is the very first time that any cells exhibiting a direct role in the expression of anxiety has been studied. It is regardless of the environmental stimulus, which carries the sentiment.
This study is exciting because it has opened a pathway, which is directly involved in anxiety-provoking behavior without even going to an extremely detailed component of the brain. Now once these anxiety cells are known to the world, any upcoming research will extensively study anxiety patterns and be treating the related disorders.
This study also tells that even a translational research based on basic science tools can also predict the underlying reason of animal emotions. Knowing this information will be helpful to find a permanent solution for related disorders.
More work is required to completely elaborate the stress and anxiety pathway and the potential treatments in near future.