Identifying the brain cells associated with fear memory
When experiences are linked to emotions – happy or sad – they tend to stick in the brain as memories more effectively than neutral experiences. This serves as a survival mechanism for humans and other animals because it encourages the avoidance of dangerous situations and the seeking of beneficial ones. In some people who have experienced the worst types of fear or pain, however, the memories are so bad they interfere with normal life – a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To investigate how bad memories are encoded into the mammalian brain, researchers zapped the feet of mice (when the animals walked on part of their enclosure) and then examined which cells in the hippocampus – a memory-forming part of the brain – were activated (green). By investigating how these cells register and store such negative experiences, and how they might be manipulated, researchers hope to garner insight into potential therapies for PTSD.
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