Before the pandemic, anxiety levels were already high, and one in five of us was suffering.
But, unsurprisingly, the numbers in the past two years have risen to one in three.
Dealing with anxiety is not easy and controlling it is sometimes, well, close to impossible. So any new idea about how the brain deals with this idea is welcome.
University of Bristol researchers have opened the window on our understanding by identifying a location in the brain for anxiety.
They say finding a key pathway there brings hope for a potential new drug target for treating anxiety and mental disorders, which affect 264 million people worldwide.
We need new drugs because existing anxiety-reducing medications aren’t effective for everyone and often have unwanted side effects.
Understanding the brain networks and mechanisms that underlie fear and anxiety may provide a new way to develop better treatments.
Neuroscientists in Bristol have turned their attention to the cerebellum, located at the back of the brain.
It is associated with many brain regions associated with survival, including the PAG (periductal gray), a structure that coordinates survival mechanisms, including “freezing” behavior, when you feel paralyzed by fear.
The researchers discovered that PAG can form a “fear memory” when fear is felt, accompanied by freezing – a behavioral measure of fear.
In other words, the cerebellum encodes a fear memory and can go back and replay it as a memory. This sounds a lot like PTSD to me.
The Bristol team showed that manipulation of the cerebellar-PAG pathway leads to reduced fear-related freezing in animals.
Lead authors, Dr. Charlotte Lorenson and Dr. Elena Pacey explain: “Importantly, our results show that the cerebellum is part of the brain survival network that regulates fear memory processes over multiple time scales and in multiple ways. It raises the possibility that dysfunctional interactions in the brain’s cerebellum survival network may They underlie fear-related disorders and comorbidities.”
This is very revolutionary in our thinking about anxiety. We’ve always thought that it was created in deep brain centers like the amygdala and in response to stress hormones.
Finding this new location for anxiety in the cerebellum gives us an entirely different approach to medications and therapies.
So because the cerebellum plays a key role in the fear/anxiety network, it presents a new target for treating psychiatric conditions, including PTSD.