An area of the brain that was previously thought to dampen response to stress, in fact does the opposite and induces anxiety. This new finding adds a new dimension to the science of identifying and treating anxiety, a condition 18% of adults in the US are affected by.
Opens a new area for study
“Our study has identified a new neural circuit that pays a causal role in promoting anxiety states. Part of the reason we lack more effective and specific drugs for anxiety is that we don’t know enough about how the brain processes anxiety. This study opens up a new line of investigation into the brain circuitry that controls anxiety,” explained author David Anderson, from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena.
Once thought to limit stress, the LS actually causes stress
Researchers discovered a brain circuit that connects an area called the lateral septum (LS) with other brain structures in a way that directly influences anxiety. Previous research has focused on the amygdala. Scientists had known the LS was active during stress but assumed it was limiting it, not promoting it. The study team used mice to find that a brief burst of activation of the LS induced a state of anxiety that persisted for at least half an hour, proving that the LS induced stress. “the most surprising part of these findings is that the outputs from the LS,” Prof. Anderson stated,” which were believed primarily to act as a brake on anxiety, actually increase anxiety.”
New drug treatments may be possible
“There have been very few new psychiatric drugs developed in the last 40 to 50 years, and that’s because we know so little about the brain circuitry that controls the emotions that go wrong in a psychiatric disorder like depression or anxiety,” noted Prof. Anderson. It could take ten years for the research to move from mice to humans and ultimately to the pharmacy, but these findings point researchers in a promising direction.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Cell