Neuroscientists from the University of Bristol in the UK have discovered a brain pathway involved in emotional behaviors that are crucial for mammalian survival. This is according to a study recently published in The Journal of Physiology.
The investigators explain that a brain region responsible for mammalian response to danger - known as the ventrolateral periaqueductal grey (vlPAG) - prompts responses that we are all familiar with when experiencing fear, such as an increase in blood pressure, high heart rate, freezing on the spot and a desire to either stay and fight or run away.
"The neural pathways underlying autonomic and sensory consequences of vlPAG activation in fearful situations are well understood," the researchers note, "but much less is known about the pathways that link vlPAG activity to distinct fear-evoked motor patterns essential for survival."
Pyramis plays a part in emotionally related freezing behavior
Neuroscientists have discovered a pathway in the brain leading from the vlPAG to the pyramis in the cerebellum (pictured).
Using adult rat models, the research team discovered a brain pathway leading from the vlPAG to the pyramis - a part of the cerebellum. The cerebellum, located at the base of the brain, is a region involved in voluntary motor movement, balance and muscle tone.
Further investigation revealed that the pyramis plays a role in provoking freezing behavior when "central survival networks" are triggered in fearful situations.
From this, the team hypothesizes that the pyramis may act as a meeting point for various survival networks to prompt a reaction to fear.
"By identifying the cerebellar pyramis as a critical component of the neural network subserving emotionally related freezing behavior, the present study identifies novel neural pathways that link the vIPAG to fear-evoked motor responses," the researchers explain.
Dr. Stella Koutsiku, of the School of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Bristol and first author of the study, notes that there is a "growing consensus" that understanding the neural circuits involved in fear behavior could bring researchers one step closer to developing therapeutic interventions for emotional disorders.
Prof. Lumb adds:
"Our work introduces the novel concept that the cerebellum is a promising target for therapeutic strategies to manage dysregulation of emotional states, such as panic disorders and phobias."
This study is the latest in a line of discoveries linked to the brain. Medical News Today recently reported on a study from Johns Hopkins University, detailing the discovery of brain activity that may mark where memories are formed.
Earlier this year, investigators from the Columbia University Medical Center revealed they have uncovered a brain region involved in social memory - the process in which an animal recognizes another of the same species. Another study details the discovery of a new brain area linked to anxiety.