Flashing brain with light can erase fear

March 10th, 2011 - 4:43 pm ICT by IANS  

London, March 10 (IANS) Suffering from panic attacks and anxiety? Help may be at hand as researchers have pinpointed a brain mechanism that makes individuals fearless.

The condition can severely damage quality of life, with some suffering regular panic attacks or almost constant symptoms such as sweating, raised heart rate and churning stomach.

Researchers at Stanford University in California found stimulating a brain circuit within a structure of grey matter could counteract fear, the journal Nature reports.

Tests on mice showed that triggering the mechanism with pulses of light boosted their willingness to take risks - while inhibiting it rendered them more timid, according to the Daily Mail.

Psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth from Standord said the finding opened the possibility of improved medications to help control anxiety disorders because the human brain is structured in the same way.

The team were able to pinpoint the phenomenon by working with a technology called optogenetics, where nerve cells are rendered photo-sensitive so their action can be turned on or off by different wavelengths of light.

They targeted a circuit within the amygdala region of the brain and found dramatic changes in mice behaviour.

Deisseroth said: “They suddenly became much more comfortable in situations they would ordinarily perceive as dangerous and, therefore, be quite anxious in.”

For example, rodents ordinarily try to avoid wide-open spaces such as fields because such places leave them exposed to predators.

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