'Anxiety cells' identified in the brain's hippocampus: Neuroscientists have found, in mice, that certain cells fire when the animal is anxious, triggering anxiety-related behaviors -- ScienceDaily
"We call these anxiety cells because they only fire when the animals are in places that are innately frightening to them," Hen says. "For a mouse, that's an open area where they're more exposed to predators, or an elevated platform."
The firing of the anxiety cells sends messages to other parts of the brain that turn on anxious behaviors -- in mice, those include avoiding the dangerous area or fleeing to a safe zone.
Though many other cells in the brain have been identified as playing a role in anxiety, the cells found in this study are the first known to represent the state of anxiety, regardless of the type of environment that provokes the emotion.
"This is exciting because it represents a direct, rapid pathway in the brain that lets animals respond to anxiety-provoking places without needing to go through higher-order brain regions," said Mazen Kheirbek, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF and study's other senior investigator.
"Now that we've found these cells in the hippocampus, it opens up new areas for exploring treatment ideas that we didn't know existed before," says the study's lead author Jessica Jimenez, PhD, an MD/PhD student at Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons.