When we see danger, we interact. Whether we choose to play, hide or face our threat face to face, our “immediate” decision is the result of a complex brain mechanism that integrates visual data and stimulates the appropriate response. How does this happen? Explain a new study
Brain contact illustration
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In the animal kingdom, vision is vital for survival. This important meaning teaches the brain about predators and other threats, and, in turn, the brain generates an appropriate reaction: courage or fear, fight or escape.
But how is this process carried out? How can animals, including humans, integrate visual information with the appropriate brain circuits that first control our emotional state and then our behavior and our actions?
A new search brings us an answer. Scientists led by Andrew Huberman, associate professor of neuroscience and ophthalmology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, discovered that brain circuits are “responsible” for the decision to fight or escape danger.
Although the study was conducted in mice, the results are related to humans. In fact, the results have significant implications for understanding and managing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction and phobias.
Lindsey Sally is the first author of the article, which has now been published in the journal Nature.
Brain circuit of fear
To test the rodent’s response to the threat, Sally and her team simulated the prey approach and used a c-Fos to track neural activity in mice.
The researchers found an increase in the activity of the neurons that were assembled in a structure called thrombus of the ventral midline (VMT).
Using brain maps, scientists can learn sensory information and what information comes out of vMT.
The researchers revealed that the VMT receives information from a wide range of areas of the brain that have to do with internal situations, such as the state of fear, but the information is very selective to send, to only two main areas: the basal lateral amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex.
The amygdala treats fear, aggression and other emotions, while the prefrontal cortex uses its executive function to modify emotional responses. The region is also deeply concerned.
The additional analysis showed more light on the path of the brain circuit involved in the response of rodents to the ominous animal.
Apparently, the nervous system starts from the “xiphoid nucleus” (a group of neurons in the vMT) and continues towards the basolateral lateral amygdala.
Another path follows a similar course, this time from the so-called nunas reuniens, another group of neurons built around the xiphoid nucleus that leads to the cortex of the frontal lobe.