Brain Research in Mice May Lead to the Treatment of PTSD and Depression in Humans
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
A young Boston University professor, Steve Ramirez, a neuroscientist, has identified cells of a mouse brain that enhance the positive or negative feelings of a memory.
Stimulating cells that enhance positive feelings can suppress or deaden the trauma associated with a bad memory. In contrast, stimulating cells that enhance negative feelings makes a bad memory feel worse.
The hippocampus in both the mouse brain and the human brain is the region of the brain responsible for storing memories, including all the details and emotions associated with them. Each memory activates a unique combination of cells of the hippocampus. Some of the cells affect emotion and behavior.
Ramirez and his collaborators (including first author Briana Chen of Columbia University) used genetically engineered mice whose neurons glow when they’re activated. Those cells can later be artificially activated with laser light. The team found that a negative memory (like getting a mild electric shock to the feet) activates cells at the bottom of the hippocampus. A positive memory (like being in the presence of a female mouse) activates cells at the top of the hippocampus.
They then were able to stimulate those same cells with a laser. When the bottom cells of the hippocampus were activated, the mouse behaved (freezing and/or avoidance behavior) as if it were recalling the negative memory of the shock. Stimulation of the cells in the top region of the hippocampus reduced the avoidance response.
This is basic research, but it is a significant first step in the eventual development of treatments for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, and depression. (Full story)
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