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Fearful Encounters

Tracing the neurons involved in fear conditioning

08 December 2020

Fearful Encounters

When we perceive a threat to our safety, fight or flight can be crucial to keeping us alive. The brain’s central amygdala then kicks in to help us learn from the experience and remember what to do if we encounter the same scenario again. However, this ‘fear learning’ doesn’t always function appropriately – people suffering from anxiety, for example, can experience overactive fear responses. In a quest to better understand the brain circuits involved in fear learning, scientists uncovered previously unknown connections between a group of central amygdala neurons (in green) and cells in the globus pallidus, a region of the brain responsible for controlling movement. When these connections were blocked, mice were unable to learn that a specific sound led to a painful sensation. Better understanding this neural circuit that helps us learn which dangerous situations to avoid may in future lead us to develop new treatments for anxiety disorders.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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