A 2018 study published in the journal Neuron has identified the neurological basis of anxiety in the brain. The scientists have revealed that the brain cells that cause anxiety are located in the hippocampus and not only regulate the behavior of this mental disease, but could also be controlled by light beams.
The study was conducted on laboratory mice packed with miniature sensors in their brains to record the reactions of their brain cells. Next, a special cage was built, in which there were open spaces and platforms at great heights to provoke anxiety in the animals.
Mazen Kheirbek, of the University of California, told Science Alert that the researchers were looking for “where the emotional information in the brain is coded for the feeling of anxiety,” a disease that affects millions of people around the world.
Researchers discovered that a group of cells in the hippocampus, called vCA1, lit up each time mice entered a state of anxiety, far from the safety of their cage walls. Lead researcher Rene Hen, of Columbia University, explains that they have called them “anxiety cells because they are only triggered when animals are in places that are frightening to them.”
Brain Cells That Cause Anxiety, Identified By Scientists
The cells would come from the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that regulates the hormones that control emotions. That leads researchers to believe that these brain cells that cause anxiety could themselves be part of human biology. For Jessica Jimenez of Columbia University, “new areas open up to explore treatment ideas we didn’t know existed before.”
But what’s even more shocking is that scientists would have discovered how to control those cells. A technique called optogenetics shines a beam of light on cells in the affected region, the vCA1, with which researchers were able to silence anxiety cells allowing mice to feel safe.
“By turning off those hippocampal cells, we discovered that the mice became less anxious. In fact, they tended to want to explore the open field that opened up beyond the labyrinth which is unusual because these animals are afraid of open areas because of the presence of predators,” said Mazen Kheirbek,
The experiment led researchers to believe that vCA1 is not the only region of the brain involved in anxiety. They came to this conclusion when they changed the configuration of the light and saw that the animals also trembled when they were safe in closed environments. For Kheirbek, “these cells are probably just one part of a circuit by which the animal learns about information related to anxiety.”