The 'central alarm system' of the brain processes threats and emotions into fear

The 'central alarm system' of the brain processes threats and emotions into fear ...

Fear is a natural emotion in humans and animals that can help us anticipate and respond to real or perceived danger.

Biochemical reactions occur when a person notices a possibility. The response to fight, flight, or freeze

A 2016 research paper demonstrates that this fear response is processed in the amygdala, a brain area that processes information from the sensory system through sight, sound, smell, and touch. Then, this information activates sections of the amygdala to initiate behavioral responses needed to deal with the threat.

Despite recent research, the brain pathways that are responsible for securing harmful information from the body's sensory system and initiating the fear response aren't fully understood.

One of the most likely pathways in a recent study from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, was finding populations of a molecule called calcitonin gene-related protein (CGRP) that allows neurons to send danger signals between different areas of the brain, then relay that information to the amygdala.

Their work is published in the journal Cell Reports.

The connection between danger perception and fear response

Scientists used single-cell calcium imaging to record the CGRP neuron activity of mice exposed to threat cues that stimulated multiple senses.

Researchers tested mice to determine fear and memory by using different fluorescent proteins.

When analyzing the data, the researchers discovered that two separate groups of CGRP neurons in the brainstem and the thalamus send signals to the nonoverlapping region of the amygdala, forming two pathways. In addition, the CGRP neuron populations also translate threatening sensory input and communicate it with other brain networks.

Both ways are involved in forming unpleasant memories, according to the researchers, which may aid an individual in avoiding the same danger in the future.

According to the authors of the study, identifying these pathways might offer insights into treating fear-based mental health disorders.

In addition, they want to investigate if they play a role in multisensory stimuli processing difficulties, such as migraine, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to a press release, drugs that block CGRP have been used to treat migraine, thus my research may serve as an example of how to utilize these drugs in relieving threat memories in PTSD and sensory hypersensitivity in autism.

Overactive neuron pathways and fear-based mental health conditions are linked.

Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC, owner of Evolve Counseling and Behavioral Health Services in Phoenix, Arizona, told Medical News Today:

Although a certain amount of fear and anxiety is normal, an over-exposure to uncomfortable or stressful situations has the potential to result in the fear pathways becoming hyperactive. This often results in the development of [..] fear-based mental health problems.

MNT also spoke with Sung Han, PhD, the senior author of the study and assistant professor at the Salk Institute, about factors that may cause these pathways to become overactive in some individuals but not others.

Dr. Han believes genetic modifications, such as a mutation or polymorphism of genes specifically involved in this neuronal pathway, might fundamentally alter the signal transmission of this pathway.

Alternatively, acquired trauma experiences may alter the plasticity of this pathway. Both situations may induce hyperactivity or decrease the activation threshold of these neurons, thereby making them more readily activated. These individuals may perceive otherwise normal sensory stimuli as aversive.

Dr. Sung Han, the senior author of the study and assistant professor at the Salk Institute, is the subject of the study.

Investigating the interaction between neuron pathways, the amygdala, and autism

MNT asked Dr. Han if his findings might be comparable to those found in the Salk Institute research.

We do not know what we've yet to investigate about the correlative relationship between the enlarged amygdala and the hyperactivated central alarm pathway that we're claiming. We can measure the size of the amygdala in mice before and after activating this pathway artificially to test these causalities.

Dr. Han told MNT that future research may put these relationships to the test.

To examine whether a mutation of an autism candidate gene contributes to the hyper-excitation of the central alarm network we identified, our immediate intention is to investigate the activity of this central alarm system in normal and autism mouse models.

What are mental health problems that are rooted in fear?

MNT. Dr. Bruce Bassi, MS, the medical director and founder of Telepsych Health in Jacksonville, Florida, said that although many mental health problems may share fear as a driver, all anxiety disorders stem from some underlying fear.

Anxiety disorders linked to fear include, among others,:

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • panic disorder (PD)
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • specific phobias

Fear and anxiety management strategies

Medication, mental health therapy, and mind-body therapies are some of the treatments available for fear-based mental health conditions.

Medications that target anxiety disorders work on key neurotransmitters, according to Dr. Bassi. Serotonin (SSRIs), norepinephrine (SNRIs), GABA (benzodiazepines) and the adrenergic system (beta blockers).

Dr. Fedrick explains that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and eye-movement desenitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are some of the most effective treatment options for fear-based mental health disorders.

Biofeedback helps individuals learn the physical symptoms of anxiety, as well as other mind-body therapies, such as EMDR and emotional freedom techniques.

Telepsych Health's medical director and founder, Dr. Bruce Bassi, MS

Dr. Fedrick advises that when an individual experiencing anxiety or fear realizes that a real danger is not actually there, it may assist in activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling the body's ability to relax.

She told MNT that ways to manage anxiety and fear include:

  • Prioritize sleep: Experts suggest adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep at night for optimal physical and ability to think.
  • Avoid caffeine: Caffeine leads to the release of certain biochemicals that can increase symptoms of anxiety.
  • Reduce stress: Identify stressors and use coping strategies, including meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing exercises when feeling stressed.
  • Exercise: Physical activity can release endorphins and other feel good chemicals in the brain. It can also improve sleep.

Dr. Bassi enthused about fear management.

Dr. Bassi advised against attempting to suppress fear or anxiety but instead embrace it, dance with it, examine it, describe it, talk about it, pursue it, and befriend it. Do anything with it, but suppress it as it will only dilute your attention.

He suggests you talk about your fears with someone you trust in order to help normalize it.

The more you concentrate on your body's feelings, such as hot and sweaty, shaky, or nauseous, the more anxious you will become. [] You can gently remind yourself that you are safe and that nothing will happen to you or your heart, and the sensation will fade, as it always does.

Telepsych Health is headed by Dr. Bruce Bassi, MS, the medical director and founder.

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