Technology They discover an amazing brain circuit in mice that rethinks how humans...

They discover an amazing brain circuit in mice that rethinks how humans can manage extreme stress

Think of a time when you suddenly had to hit the brakes in your car or a long message from your boss appeared in your email first thing Monday morning. Surely, your heart has skipped a beat.

That feeling of panic or overwhelm eventually wears off, at which point you begin to see the situation more clearly: the roadworks that have stopped traffic, or the to-do list in your boss’s email that you can start tackling a problem. to one.

In the past, concentrating on a high-stress situation could mean the difference between life and death: The ability to outsmart and outrun a predator.

However, to date scientists did not know very well what exactly triggered that key transition from panic to focus. They thought the brain just needed a little time for the neurotransmitter norepinephrine—the brain’s adrenaline—to kick in.

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Now, a new study published in Nature on stressed mouse brains revealed something totally surprising: a never-before-seen brain circuit that channels norepinephrine to special brain cells called astrocytes.

While the mice were stressed, the researchers observed that the astrocytes were put into actionhelping the animals’ brains to relax and regulate the flood of overexcited neurons that contribute to the “fight or flight” stress response.

Mouse brains are, of course, different from human ones. But human brains also contain astrocytes that can function in a similar way. If the brain circuitry is similar in humans, it could help scientists better understand attention disorders, including ADHD, and thus develop better treatments.

A new brain circuit

Stressed mice may hold the key to better understanding stress and how we manage it.James Brey/Getty Images

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco examined the brain activity of mice subjected to acute stress and found that norepinephrine in the brain actually sends 2 messages: one to neurons to activate alertness and another to astrocytes to calm hyperactive neurons.

“I didn’t expect astrocyte activity to track changes in animal alertness so closely,” explains Kira Poskanzer, lead author of the study and associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics.

Backtracking: what exactly are astrocytes? Is about star-shaped cells located between neurons in the brain. Until recently, they had been relatively little studied because scientists considered them more of a support system than a star. However, research reveals its essential role in neural activity.

“We can learn a lot about how the brain works by focusing on things like astrocytes that have been left out of traditional neuroscientific research,” says Poskanzer.

A better understanding of stress management and hyperactivity disorders

People with hyperactivity disorders often experience a worsening of symptoms in stressful situations. It is common for them to find it difficult to calm down and regain concentration.

If scientists could identify the mechanism that causes our brain to relax and regain attention, concentration and perception in times of stress, there would be more chances to learn how to use it to better help people who are affected by stress in a better way. severe form.

Since this is an animal study conducted in mice, the researchers cannot extrapolate from it and say how the results would translate to humans.

However, both mice and humans are mammals, and the study “suggests that human astrocytes may also be important in regulating neural activity in the cortex,” says Poskanzer.

And since newly discovered brain circuitry in mice helps control attention and perception, could play an important role in the treatment of attention disorders and other neurological and psychological disorders. We will have to be aware of further investigations.



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