Brain processes different fears in different ways
A mouse study from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory has found that certain fears, such as physical pain and fear of predators, activate different brain circuits, even though physical reactions are the same.
The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, exposed mice to three threats: another aggressive mouse, a rat predator or a mild electric shock to the feet. In all three instances, the mice showed consistent fearful reactions to the threats by either running away or freezing. But, the scientists found that a region of the brain called the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) showed different parts “light up” depending on the threat.
When the mice faced an aggressive mouse, the bottom and sides of the VMH activated, and when faced with the predator, the central and upper areas lit up. When researchers blocked only the rat fear area with drugs, the mice were no longer afraid of the rat, but still feared the aggressive mouse. The pain fear went through another part of the brain.
Researchers say the human brain has similar circuits to those found in mice, and these findings could help scientists develop new treatments for phobias and panic attacks by targeting the region that becomes activated.
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