Neuroscientists at University of California have identified ‘anxiety cells’ in the brain’s hippocampus. The finding, so far demonstrated with mice, could lead to better treatments for anxiety disorders in humans because the cells probably exist in humans, too, researchers say.
“Now that we’ve found these cells in the hippocampus, it opens up new areas for exploring treatment ideas that we didn’t know existed before,” said the study’s lead author, Jessica Jimenez, in a news release.
For the study, researchers inserted miniature microscope into the brains of the mice to record the activity of hundreds of cells in the hippocampus as the mice moved through their surroundings. They found that whenever the mice were exposed to anxiety-provoking environments, cells in the ventral part of the hippocampus were active. And when the researchers traced the output of those cells, it pointed to the hypothalamus – a part of the brain known to control behaviour associated with anxiety in humans.
Researchers were able to control the activity of anxiety cells, too, using a technique called optogenetics, which uses beams of light to turn the cells off and on.
The study, entitled “Anxiety Cells in a Hippocampal-Hypothalamic Circuit” has been published in the journal Neuron.