Switching Off Anxiety by Switching Off Brain Cells?

Stress is something that everyone has to contend with. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 55% of Americans report feeling stress during the day. But what if it was possible to turn off stress by simply shutting down certain cells in the brain?

Flick of the Switch

This finding comes courtesy from researchers at Japan’s Osaka University, who published their research in the journal Science Advances. For this study, the authors relied on laboratory mice, and directed their focus towards a group of cells found in a section of the brain called the claustrum. The claustrum serves as a thin bridge between the prefrontal cortex and the thalamus, both of which influence our ability to think, recall information and pay attention to our surroundings. These regions also play a key role in our perception and awareness capabilities.

The Osaka team stimulated these cells in their rodent subjects, and as a result they began to display behaviors associated with anxiety. Conversely, when these cells were turned off, the mice proved to be far better at dealing with chronic stress. Given these findings, the researchers contend that potential new treatments could alleviate stress by targeting cells within the claustrum. In a press release detailing his team’s work, study co-author Hitoshi Hashimoto stated that “inactivation of stress-responsive claustrum [brain cells] can serve as at least a partially preventative measure for the emergence of depression-like behavior.”

Getting Fast Answers

So how did the Osaka team document the behavior of these brain cells? The answer to this question is the FAST technique, which enabled them to examine the behavior of individual cells. Thanks to the FAST technique – which was developed by Osaka University faculty – the team was not only able to image the entire brains of stressed mice, but also mice in a control group.

Study co-author Misaki Niu noted that “a combined approach using brain activation mapping and machine learning showed that the claustrum activation serves as a reliable marker of exposure to acute stressors.”

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