October 15, 2002
Overcoming Fear Has Biochemical Basis

Blocking the LVGCC channels can prevent extinction of fear :

In a discovery with implications for treatment of anxiety disorders, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute investigators have identified a distinct molecular process in the brain involved in overcoming fear. The findings will be published in the Oct. 15 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience. The study of how mice acquire, express and extinguish conditional fear shows for the first time that L-type voltage-gated calcium channels (LVGCCs) -- one of hundreds of varieties of electrical switches found in brain cells -- are required to overcome fear but play no role in becoming fearful or expressing fear. The findings suggest that it may be possible to identify the cells, synapses and molecular pathways specific to extinguishing fear, and to the treatment of human anxiety disorders.

"Brain plasticity, or the ability of the central nervous system to modify cellular connections, has long been recognized as a key component to learning and memory," said Dr. Mark Barad, the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute's Tennenbaum Family Center faculty scholar and an assistant professor in-residence of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "The discovery of a distinct molecular process in overcoming fear bodes well for development of new drugs that can make psychotherapy, or talk therapy, easier and more effective in treating anxiety disorders. More broadly, the findings also suggest that distinct molecular processes may be involved in the expression and treatment of other psychiatric disorders."

Both the acquisition and extinction of conditional fear are forms of active learning. The acquisition of conditional fear requires a unique pairing of an initially neutral conditional stimulus with an aversive unconditional stimulus. In this research, the conditional stimulus was a tone and the unconditional stimulus was a mild foot shock.

If blocking LVGCC will prevent one from overcoming fear then would a design of LVGCC that opens at a lower threshold of stimulation result in a personality that overcomes fear more easily? Will it become possible to genetically engineer personality types that are more fearless? Will people choose such personality types for their children when it becomes possible to do so?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2002 October 15 10:48 AM  Biological Mind


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