Scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia have demonstrated that adult brains produce new cells within the amygdala, an almond-shaped region of the brain involved in emotional processing. The research may have applications for treating disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is well established that adult brains continually generate new neurons in certain areas, in particular within the hippocampus, the brain region linked to memory. The process is called neurogenesis, and the new neurons are derived from neural stem and precursor cells. However, until now, neurogenesis has not been observed in the amygdala.
The amygdala, part of the limbic system, is a paired structure, with a part located deep within both temporal lobes of the brain. It has been found to play a role in emotional learning and processing. In particular, it regulates our fear and fear learning, the process by which a certain stimulus becomes associated with frightening event.
Neurogenesis in the amygdala
In the new study, the research team discovered neural precursor cells within the basolateral amygdala of adult mice. They then confirmed that a portion of the precursor cells matured to new and functional neurons.
“While it was previously known that new neurons are produced in the adult brain, excitingly this is the first time that new cells have been discovered in the amygdala,” senior author Dr. Pankaj Sah said in a press release. “Our discovery has enormous implications for understanding the amygdala’s role in regulating fear and fearful memories.”
The finding provides new understanding into how adult brains can regenerate and adapt to changes, and the researchers hope these insights can be applied to developing better treatments for disorders linked to fear learning, such as anxiety, depression, phobias and PTSD.
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