Scientists may have discovered the physical source of anxiety. In a recent study, researchers found that mice have specialized brain cells that appear to control anxiety levels.
To make this discovery, a team of scientists at UC San Francisco and Columbia University Medical Center put test mice through some anxiety-producing labyrinths. While mice scrambled through the maze, researchers monitored the stressed-out mice’s brains. They saw “anxiety neurons” light up in the mouse hippocampus, the area of the brain that plays a powerful role in emotion. The researchers also saw that these neurons were connected directly to the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that can “trigger avoidance behavior in animals.” Since humans are animals (for proof, look no further than the closest all-you-can-eat buffet), researchers are hopeful this discovery applies to humans as well.
The finding, reported in the journal Neuron, reveals these cells not only regulate anxious behavior, but can be controlled by a beam of light. While mice are not completely representative of human anatomy (most of us don’t have tails, after all) scientists are hopeful that this could eventually lead to better treatments for anxiety disorders, which affect nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.