New Neurons May be Factor in Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms

Researchers have discovered a link between neurons and fearful memories. The new study suggests that in fearful situations, new neurons, created by the hippocampus, act as a canvas on which new memories are imprinted. Researchers state that these newly generated neurons are responsible for strong memories linked to fearful and traumatic experiences. “We remember emotional events much more strongly than daily experiences, and for a long time we have known that connections between the amygdala and hippocampus help to encode this emotional information,” said Kaufer, an assistant professor of integrative biology and a member of University of California, Berkeley’s Wills Neuroscience Institute. “Our research shows that amygdala input actually pushes the hippocampus to make new neurons from a unique population of neural stem cells. This provides completely new cells that get activated in response to emotional input.”

These results are significant for exploring the symptoms related to posttraumatic stress and other issues that develop as a result of emotional memory. “Many affective disorders involve disordered emotional memories like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. We think that newborn neurons may play a role in creating these emotional memories,” she said.

Kaufer conducted the study with Aaron Friedman and Elizabeth Kirby, lead author, by altering the basolateral amygdala of rats, resulting in decreased production of new cells. They elicited a fear response in the rats, and subjected them to the same fearful experience, and a non-threatening experience, the following day. They discovered that the newly created neurons were active as a result of the fearful event, but the neurons did not react in the altered basolateral amygdala.”The research suggests that newborn neurons play a role not only in the formation of memory, but also in helping to create the emotional context of memory,” Kirby said. The researchers hope to further explore the effects of similar negative emotions, such as anxiety or stress, on the amygdala to determine the impact on newly developed neurons.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • renee k

    renee k

    June 18th, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    maybe some kind of internal defense mechanism?

  • Graham Steele

    Graham Steele

    June 18th, 2011 at 8:18 PM

    Interesting indeed! I guess the next question would whether it’s possible to identify those particular neurons that are linked to emotional input and in turn eradicate them or at least eradicate the part that contains the fearful memories. The possibilites of such a notion are fantastic.

  • Jessica Watt

    Jessica Watt

    June 19th, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    This research certainly heralds a new dawn in the understanding of PTSD and how it occurs. Perhaps the day when PTSD is a thing of the past is in the not too distant future if we can develop such a treatment.

    The problem I see is that treatment, unless specifically targeted, may interfere with the formation of normal memories. Still, the premise is clearly in its infancy and they must learn to walk before they can run, so who knows!

  • Chris O.

    Chris O.

    June 19th, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Wouldn’t it be great if you could just exterminate those fearful memories in those new neutrons by zapping them with a mini-laser or something? I know, I know: that sounds like a scifi novel.

    Imagine it for a moment though–all that fear gone with one quick zap. No more tears, no more sorrow, no more regrets. How life enhancing that would be!! This news excites me.

  • Brad Cairn

    Brad Cairn

    June 19th, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    I’m not a scientist but I think this discovery is HUGE! I say this because this is basically the finding of how negative things are stored in our brain and may one day lead to medicines that will prevent just that!

  • ben

    ben

    June 20th, 2011 at 4:24 AM

    Call me stupid but I always thought that we were born with the brain cells that we had and that nothing new ever was made.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    June 20th, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    @Ben:We’re constantly undergoing change biologically and physically. Our cell,nonmatter what kind,are constantly getting replaced with newer ones.We just don’t feel it.It’s just like hair,old ones die away and new one’s keep growing out that’s how it’s meant to be.

    But yes,all this ‘creation’ of new(as in additional) neurons just to store painful memories does not seem like a great system ;)

  • Zed

    Zed

    June 21st, 2011 at 8:07 AM

    I would love such a thing,Chris.And life would be much better if we could just get rid of those things.But there could be issues with the missing data in our mind ;)

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