NOV 20, 2021 10:30 AM PST

Fear balance - the brain and body communicate to maintain fear within an adaptive range

WRITTEN BY: J. Bryce Ortiz

We have all experienced the emotion of fear. Although what one individual might fear (e.g. rollercoasters or snakes), might be exciting and bring joy to others. Regardless fear is an essential emotion that has helped the human species survive. Fear enables us to meet threatening situations with appropriate physiological responses. For example, in a dangerous situation our heartbeat quickens, the bronchi in our lungs dilate which allows us to intake more oxygen, and our body mobilizes energy stores to the muscles so that we can either fight off the dangerous situation or flee from it. 

Individuals who are unable to experience fear are often placed in dangerous or life-threatening situations. On the contrary, excessive fear can become pathological and develop into anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. Because of this, the body must maintain a fine balance between too little and too much fear. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Germany recently asked the question of, how does the brain communicate with the body to maintain fear within this adaptive range? Their research addressing this question was published in the journal Science earlier this week. 

The researchers investigated how fear memories in mice are regulated by a region of the brain called the insular cortex. The insular cortex is known to play a role in emotional regulation. However, the researchers wondered if the insular cortex also received feedback from the body to help maintain fear within the adaptive range. To test this, the researchers experimentally stimulated the vagus nerve, the main nerve that carries information from the body to the brain, including the insular cortex. The researchers found that by disrupting the communication from the body to the brain via vagus nerve stimulation, the balance between too little fear and too much fear in the mice was disrupted.

These findings are the first to show that the insular cortex is critically important for integrating bodily signals in order to maintain the emotion of fear within a healthy range. Future work is needed to understand how these findings can be used to treat individuals with anxiety disorders. 

 

Sources: Psychology toolsnprMayo ClinicScienceCurrent Biology

About the Author
  • Science and medical writer | Researcher | Interested in the intersection between translational science, drug development, and policy
You May Also Like
OCT 15, 2021
Health & Medicine
Over Half of Patients Infected in the Pandemic Experience 'Long COVID'
OCT 15, 2021
Over Half of Patients Infected in the Pandemic Experience 'Long COVID'
About 236 million people are known to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVD-19. Researchers hav ...
OCT 25, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
How Fat Cells May Influence Cognitive Decline
OCT 25, 2021
How Fat Cells May Influence Cognitive Decline
Some research has indicated that a Western diet, which is high in processed foods, sugars, and fats, may be contributing ...
NOV 02, 2021
Technology
Mini Sensors Help Detect Neuromotor Abnormalities in Infants
NOV 02, 2021
Mini Sensors Help Detect Neuromotor Abnormalities in Infants
Neuromotor abnormalities (such as abnormal movement and gross motor abilities) are often caused by often unseen damage t ...
NOV 16, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Algorithm Mines Big Data, Finds Gene Linked to Psychiatric Disease
NOV 16, 2021
Algorithm Mines Big Data, Finds Gene Linked to Psychiatric Disease
We have a wealth of human genome data overlaid with gene ‘hotspots’ linked to the development of particular ...
DEC 17, 2021
Health & Medicine
Chronic Cannabis Use, Oral Microbiomes and the Link to Brain Disorders
DEC 17, 2021
Chronic Cannabis Use, Oral Microbiomes and the Link to Brain Disorders
Long-term cannabis smoking can increase the risk of altering oral health and consequently brain heath. A recent study of ...
DEC 27, 2021
Microbiology
Anthrax Toxin Has Potential as Non-Opioid Pain Therapeutic
DEC 27, 2021
Anthrax Toxin Has Potential as Non-Opioid Pain Therapeutic
Anthrax conjures thoughts of bioterrorism, though it's a disease caused by a rare but naturally-occurring bacterium, Bac ...
Loading Comments...