text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text Transcoder Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation Home National Science Foundation - Education & Human Resources (EHR)
Education & Human Resources (EHR)
design element
EHR Home
About EHR
Funding Opportunities
Awards
News
Events
Discoveries
Publications
Advisory Committee
Career Opportunities
See Additional EHR Resources
View EHR Staff
EHR Organizations
Graduate Education (DGE)
Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)
Undergraduate Education (DUE)
Human Resource Development (HRD)
Proposals and Awards
Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide
  Introduction
Proposal Preparation and Submission
bullet Grant Proposal Guide
  bullet Grants.gov Application Guide
Award and Administration
bullet Award and Administration Guide
Award Conditions
Other Types of Proposals
Merit Review
NSF Outreach
Policy Office
Additional EHR Resources
2013 EHR Budget Information
Advancing Technology-Enhanced Ed: Workshop
EHR Evaluation Reports
Other Site Features
Special Reports
Research Overviews
Multimedia Gallery
Classroom Resources
NSF-Wide Investments

Email this pagePrint this page


Press Release 11-047
Researchers Selectively Control Anxiety Pathways in the Brain

Study uses NSF-supported technology to identify neuronal circuitry

3-D magnetic resonance imaging rendering of the human brain, functional MRI highlighted in red.

New study supports the role of a brain region called the amygdala in processing anxiety.
Credit and Larger Version

March 9, 2011

A new study sheds light--both literally and figuratively--on the intricate brain cell connections responsible for anxiety.

Scientists at Stanford University recently used light to activate mouse neurons and precisely identify neural circuits that increase or decrease anxiety-related behaviors. Pinpointing the origin of anxiety brings psychiatric professionals closer to understanding anxiety disorders, the most common class of psychiatric disease.

A research team led by Karl Deisseroth, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and bioengineering, identified two key pathways in the brain: one which promotes anxiety, and one which alleviates anxiety.

The pathways are in a brain region called the amygdala. Prior research suggests the amygdala plays a role in anxiety, but earlier studies used widespread modifications of the amygdala, through drugs or physical disruption of the brain region, to study the way in which it affects anxiety. This new work, published in this week's Nature, uses a tool called optogenetics--developed by Deisseroth and recently named Method of the Year by Nature Methods--to specifically tease out which pathways contribute to anxiety.

Optogenetics combines genetics and optical science to selectively manipulate the way a neuron fires in the brain. Neurons are electrically excitable cells that convey information through electrical and chemical signaling.

Directed genetic manipulations cause specific neurons to assemble a light-activated protein normally found in algae and bacteria. When triggered by certain wavelengths of light, these proteins allow researchers to increase or decrease neuronal activity in the brain and observe the effects on rodent models in an experiment.

Using optogenetic manipulation of various amygdala pathways, Deisseroth and colleagues examined how mouse behavior was affected. Since mice display anxiety-related behaviors in open spaces, they measured changes in anxiety by analyzing how much time mice spent exploring the center of an open field, or exploring the length of a platform without walls.

While optogenetics has been used to study amygdala function in behaviorally-conditioned fear, this is the first time it has been used to study anxiety. "Fear and anxiety are different," Deisseroth explained. "Fear is a response to an immediate threat, but anxiety is a heightened state of apprehension with no immediate threat. They share the same outputs, for example physical manifestations such as increased heart rate, but their controls are very different."

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent among all psychiatric diseases, and include diseases such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias. Anxiety also contributes to other major psychiatric disorders such as depression and substance abuse.

"Now that we know that these cell projections [in the amygdala] exist, we can first use this knowledge to understand anxiety more than we do now," Deisseroth noted.

Deisseroth has previously used optogenetics to study deep brain stimulation in Parkinson's disease. This research was detailed last year in the journal Science and reported online by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

"Deep brain stimulation is increasingly being considered for psychiatric disorders, so after studying Parkinson's disease, we started building towards research on psychiatric disorders," Deisseroth commented. Next he wants to use these tools to study depression and autism spectrum disorders.

Groundwork for the optogenetics technique was funded by NSF. This research was supported by the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, the National Institutes of Health and NSF.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8485, bmixon@nsf.gov
Nicole Garbarini, NSF, (703) 292-8463, ngarbari@nsf.gov

Program Contacts
Melur K Ramasubramanian, NSF, (703) 292-5089, mramasub@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Karl Deisseroth, Stanford University, (650) 736-4325, deissero@stanford.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

 

border=0/


Email this pagePrint this page
Back to Top of page