Fear and Courage : Ever imagined what would happen if you have switches to control your brain! A remote for controlling all your emotions and behavior of your brain; Just like a remote control of your television set! Life would become bizarre then; you just lie down on your bed and push the sleep button whenever you want to sleep, you can just push the anxiety switch off and perform boldly on stage. The Possible utilization of this technology/drug is endless…an on-off switch for every emotion, sleep button, wake button, dream button, fear button, courage button… well Science is stepping towards this unimaginable possibility.
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have located precisely two clusters of neurons in the brain of mice and by altering the level of activation of these two clusters, they made the mice behave Boldly or Timidly. They invoked the timid response or the courageous response in the mice.
“People’s Brains probably possess equivalent circuitry,” Andrew Huberman, PhD, senior author and associate professor of neurobiology and of ophthalmology said.
“ This opens the door to future work on how to shift us from paralysis and fear to being able to confront challenges in ways that make our lives better” said Huberman,
This research paper is published in Journal Nature, Graduate student Lindsey Salay is the lead author.
How they found Fear and Courage switches
There are many dangers in the life of a mouse; not from the ground but from sky also, the predators can attack anytime from any direction and if mouse has to survive it should take instant decision, a split second decision to run away, hide or stand still. Mouse has evolved to face these dangers, they make split second decisions when facing a life threatening danger, their brain has evolved perfectly for this…so by performing close study of their brains we can find how this remarkably fast decision making process is going on inside their tiny heads.
Salay the lead author put mice in simulated environment showing them a bird of prey approaching to mice from the sky. After comparing the brain regions that were more active in mice exposed to danger than unexposed mice, she pinpointed a circuit of neurons called the ventral midline thalamus, or vMT.
Salay then mapped the input and output of the vMT and discovered that it receives sensory signals from regions of the brain that register internal brain states, but in contrast to wide input it’s output destination points were remarkably selective. Then team traced these outputs to two destinations: the basolateral amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex.
Previous research has tied the amygdale to the processing of threat detection and fear, and the medial prefrontal cortex is associated with executive functions and anxiety.
Further investigation unfolded that the nerve track leading to the basolateral amygdale originate from a nerve cell cluster in the vMT called the xiphoid nucleus.
The track that leads to the medaial prefrontal cortex, the investigators learned comes from a cluster called the nucleus Reuniens.
So Xiphoid Nucleus is fear switch and Reuniens nerve cluster is courage switch. When scientists stimulated xiphoid nerve cluster, signs of fear from danger shown by the mice and when they stimulated the Reuniens cluster mice did not ran away instead they rattled their tales in courage.
“The ‘courageous’ behavior was unmistakable, and loud, You could hear their tails thumping against the side of the chamber” “It’s the mouse equivalent of slapping and beating your chest and saying , “ok, let’s fight” Senior investigator Huberman describes.
These scientists are hoping that this discovery may help treat patients with Phobias, constant anxiety or PTSD, stress etc.
But the drug based on this discovery can also be misused, military might try them on soldiers to make them more fierce.
If in near future, crime might increase as criminal minded people might become more bold courageous and fierce by misusing drugs stimulating these specific neuron clusters.
Source: Stanford Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine