APR 07, 2016 4:47 AM PDT

Emotions In The Brain

The brain is an incredibly complex system of neurons, synapses and blood flow. It controls all the functions of the body and also regulates the emotional state, but how it processes the feelings people experience is difficult to understand fully. Mental illness is the manifestation of how something can go wrong in the brain, for instance when a person who suffers from anxiety can become stressed over a very minor occurrence that would not normally warrant a fear response.
 
How the brain processes positive and negative emotions

Researchers at MIT have found new information on a part of the brain and the neurons in that area that transport electrical impulses and other information about events that are pleasant or unpleasant. The amygdala is very small, about the size of a large cashew but it’s responsible for routing crucial signals through the brain. The study is published in the March 31st issue of the journal Neuron.
 
In a press release about the study Kay Tye, the Whitehead Career Development Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory said, “I think this project really cuts across specific categorizations of diseases and could be applicable to almost any mental illness. Learning more about how this information is routed and misrouted could shed light on mental illnesses including depression, addiction, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.” 
 
This wasn’t the first time Tye and her colleagues have identified certain groups of neurons the process emotions.  A paper published in April of 2015 in the journal Nature detailed how the brain handles “good” and “bad” feelings. In that study, they showed how the nucleus acumbens is part of how the brain deals with rewarding experiences, while another group of neurons sends negative information on a pathway to the centromedial amygdala. 
 
Finding out where in the brain these emotions are processed was only the first part of the research. Tye and her colleagues wanted to know exactly what happens in these areas and what the neurons do. Using lab mice, they “tagged” with a protein that reactions with light, called channelrhodopsin . If this protein hadn’t been used, the researchers would not have been able to see how the neurons in different areas connect and carry the signals around. In three groups of mice the team tagged neurons in ventral hippocampus, the centromedial amygdala and the nucleus accumbens.
 
While the team found that there are no strict boundaries of specific emotions in specific areas of the brain there were some patterns observed. After training mice to associate a specific sound with either a reward of sugar water or a taste of something bitter, they found that in general neurons that directed their signals to the nucleus accumbens, did so as a result of being excited by the reward stimulus.. Conversely, the aversive stimulus of the bitter tasting food caused neurons to project to the central amygdala.  This was a continuation of Tye’s earlier research which showed the brain areas that were active during positive and negative experiences, but did not show the actual dynamics of what was happening at the neuronal level. Postdoctoral fellow Anna Beyeler and graduate student Praneeth Namburi were the lead authors on the paper. The video below tells more about the specifics of the study and what treatments could eventually come about from this kind of research.
 
 


Sources: Neuron MIT Press Release Nature
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
JUL 05, 2021
Neuroscience
People with Autism More Likely to Self-Medicate with Recreational Drugs
JUL 05, 2021
People with Autism More Likely to Self-Medicate with Recreational Drugs
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have found that people with autism are more likely than people without the ...
AUG 01, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Berry Compound Reverses Parkinson's in Mice
AUG 01, 2021
Berry Compound Reverses Parkinson's in Mice
A naturally-occurring compound called farnesol found in berries and other fruits prevents and reverses Parkinson's-a ...
AUG 11, 2021
Health & Medicine
Mental Health-Where is COVID-19 Leading Us?
AUG 11, 2021
Mental Health-Where is COVID-19 Leading Us?
It has been established that there is no single cause of psychiatric illness. As with many other diseases, psychiatric i ...
AUG 24, 2021
Health & Medicine
Do "brain trainers" make you smarter? Maybe, maybe not.
AUG 24, 2021
Do "brain trainers" make you smarter? Maybe, maybe not.
There is no consensus about the efficacy of online cognitive games, but a recent study found no cognitive improvements a ...
SEP 16, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Medical Opinions Are Often Divided, but Tech Can Bring Them Together
SEP 16, 2021
Medical Opinions Are Often Divided, but Tech Can Bring Them Together
Patients place their faith in medical professionals for making sound clinical decisions based on their diagnoses. But wh ...
SEP 22, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Amyloid From the Liver May Contribute to Alzheimer's
SEP 22, 2021
Amyloid From the Liver May Contribute to Alzheimer's
While many changes have been observed in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients, amyloid plaques are considered a ha ...
Loading Comments...