Scientists uncover brain circuits behind putting up a fight or freezing in place

ScienceDaily | 5/10/2018 | Staff
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"Being able to manipulate specific circuits can uncover surprising relationships between brain areas and provide great insight into how the sensory, emotional, and behavioral centers work together to drive reactions," said Jim Gnadt, Ph.D., program director at the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and a team lead for the BRAIN Initiative. "The tools and technologies developed through the BRAIN Initiative have made studies such as this one possible."

A team of researchers led by Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and of ophthalmology at Stanford University in California, investigated the role of the ventral midline thalamus (vMT) in determining how animals respond to visual threats. The thalamus is a brain region that acts as a relay station, taking in sensory information, such as what is seen and heard, and sorting out where in the brain to send that information.

Dr - Huberman - Colleagues - VMT - Mice

Dr. Huberman and his colleagues showed that the vMT was activated when mice were confronted with a threat, specifically a black circle that grew larger on top of their cage, mimicking the experience of something looming over them. When faced with the looming threat, the mice spent most of the time freezing or hiding and very little time rattling their tails, which is typically an aggressive response.

To further investigate the role of vMT, Dr. Huberman's team used state-of-the-art tools, including designer drugs that allowed specific circuits to be turned on and off. Although inactivating the vMT had no effect on freezing and hiding, it eliminated the tail rattling response. Turning on the vMT increased the number of tail shaking responses and caused the mice to move around more and spend less time hiding or freezing.

Dr - Huberman - Group - VMT - Information

Dr. Huberman's group also discovered that the vMT sends information primarily to two brain areas: the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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