The fight-or-flight response is synonymous with most life forms. In moments of acute stress, your sympathetic nervous system will activate a sudden release of hormones that trigger a single response: fight or flight. Fear plays a major role in activating this response because it is usually activated in dire moments when a quick decision could be the difference between life and death.
Scientists from the Salk Institute who were researching how the brain gathers threatening cues and distills them into fear signals have found a molecular pathway that plays a major role in creating the fear response. This pathway distills threatening sounds, smells and sounds into fear signals via a molecule dubbed CGRP.
This chemical makes it possible for neurons in two different sections of the brain to bundle different threatening signals together into a solely unified signal. The neurons then tag the unified signal as negative and send the signal to the amygdala, a section of the brain that is mainly involved with processing memories and emotions associated with fear. Once the amygdala receives the signal, it translates the unified signal into fear, the new research showed.
According to senior study author Sung Han, the brain pathway the researchers discovered functioned in a way that was similar to a central alarm system. The scientists discovered that negative sensory cues from all the five senses are able to activate CGRP neurons, a discovery which Han believed could allow subsequent researchers to develop new ways to manage fear-related disorders. This discovery could potentially open up new avenues in the treatment of fear-related conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and hypersensitivity disorders such as fibromyalgia, autism and migraines.
The researchers published their findings in the “Cell Reports” journal earlier this month.
Previous studies into the fear response have found that even though a majority of external threats had multisensory cues, the threats were each relayed to different parts of the brain via different pathways. Researchers had been unable to find a single pathway that integrated all these signals and conveyed them to the brain’s fear center until scientists from Salk made their discovery.
Previous studies had also found that the amygdala, which is essentially the brain’s main fear center, receives plenty of input from brain regions that are suffused with calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a neuropeptide that is often associated with aversion. Building on these previous studies, the Salk Institute researchers sought to determine if CGRP neurons that are usually found in the subregions of the brainstem and thalamus conveyed multisensory threat cues to the amygdala.
The researchers hope their findings can be used to further efforts to develop a drug that can relieve threat memories in hypersensitivity issues such as autism or threat memories in PTSD. These insights into how fear signals are generated and processed could potentially enrich the drug-development programs of entities such as Silo Pharma Inc. (OTCQB: SILO), which are conducting research into better ways to treat mental health conditions.
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