“Hope as scientists target a new area in the brain to treat anxiety” – Miriam Stoppard

Researchers at the University of Bristol have opened the window to our understanding by uncovering a fear center in the brain that could pave the way for a new drug

Anxiety and mental disorders affect 264 million people worldwide
Anxiety and mental disorders affect 264 million people worldwide

Before the pandemic, fear was already quite high, one in five of us had problems.

But unsurprisingly, the numbers have risen to one in three in recent years.

Dealing with fear isn’t easy, and controlling it is sometimes, well, almost impossible. Therefore, any new insight into how the brain deals with it is welcome.

Bristol University researchers have opened the window to our understanding by pinpointing a center for fear in the brain.

They say the discovery of a key pathway there brings hope for a potential new drug target to treat anxiety and mental disorders, which affect 264 million people worldwide.

We need new drugs because existing anti-anxiety drugs are not effective for everyone and often have unwanted side effects.

Understanding the brain networks and mechanisms underlying fear and anxiety may offer a new approach to designing better treatments.

Anxiety-relieving coping mechanisms are not effective for everyone

The Bristol neuroscientists turned their attention to the cerebellum, which is located at the back of the brain.

It’s linked to many brain regions linked to survival, including the PAG (periaqueductal gray), a structure that coordinates survival mechanisms, including “freezing” behavior when you’re feeling paralyzed with fear.

Researchers discovered that the PAG can form a “fear memory” when fear is felt, accompanied by a freeze – a behavioral measure of anxiety.

In other words, the cerebellum encodes a fear memory and can return and replay as a memory. That sounds a lot like post-traumatic stress disorder to me.

The Bristol team showed that manipulating the cerebellar PAG pathway resulted in a reduction in fear-related freezing in animals.

The main authors Dr. Charlotte Lawrenson and Dr. Elena Paci explains: “Importantly, our results show that the cerebellum is part of the brain’s survival network that regulates fear memory processes on multiple time scales and in different ways; This raises the possibility that dysfunctional interactions in the brain’s cerebellar survival network may underlie anxiety-related disorders and comorbidities.”

This is quite revolutionary in our thinking about fear. We have always believed that it is generated in deep brain centers like the amygdala and in response to stress hormones.

Finding this new fear site in the cerebellum gives us a very different approach to medication and therapy.

Thus, because the cerebellum plays a key role in the fear/anxiety network, it offers a novel target for the treatment of mental disorders, including PTSD.

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https://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/hope-scientists-targeting-new-area-26970056 "Hope as scientists target a new area in the brain to treat anxiety" - Miriam Stoppard

Fry Electronics Team

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