AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 2, 2017

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Scenes From Scare Movies Help Researchers Identify Key Brain Circuits for Processing Fear

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Finding could help scientists unlock new ways to treat mental health disorders

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have identified a key neural pathway in humans that explains how the brain processes feelings of fear and anxiety, a finding that could help scientists unlock new ways to treat mental health disorders. People are motivated to remember fearful events, because this information is useful for daily survival. Yet over-interpretation of fear may lead to anxiety and other mental disorders. Understanding how the human brain processes fearful information has been a topic of intense scientific research. Until now, the brain circuit underlying fear has only been mapped in rodents. Researchers recorded neuronal activity using electrodes inserted into the amygdala and hippocampus of nine people as they watch scenes from horror movies to stimulate the recognition of fear. “Deep brain electrodes capture neurons firing millisecond by millisecond, revealing in real time how the brain attends to fearful stimuli,” said Jie Zheng, a UCI graduate student and the study’s first author.

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