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.
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