LOS ANGELES, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- Scientists have identified an area within the brain's frontal cortex that may coordinate an animal's response to potentially traumatic situations, according to a new study led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Understanding where and how neural circuits involving the frontal cortex regulate such functions, and how such circuits could malfunction, may provide insight about their role in trauma-related and stress-related psychiatric disorders in people, NIH said in a release on Monday.
In animal models of stress and trauma, learning about potential sources of threat by observing how others deal with danger can be an effective way to avoid harm. Understanding the differences in how the brain processes direct experience of a threat compared to observing another's response to a threat may shed light on factors that predispose humans to trauma- and stress-related psychiatric disorders, according to NIH.
Scientists examined brain activity in mice undergoing observational fear learning, the process through which animals learn about sources of danger and minimize their own risk by observing how others respond to threats.
They focused on the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), a brain area known to play key roles in processing social information and interpreting threats in mice, humans, and other animals.
"This study underscores the importance of basic neurobehavioral research in defining the neurocircuits that contribute to elements of post-traumatic stress, a key driver of psychiatric disorders and alcohol use disorder in particular," said director of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism George F. Koob.
"By identifying patterns of brain activity that underpin how animals learn about threats from others, these findings could eventually inform prevention and treatment approaches for alcohol use disorder and other stress/trauma-related disorders," Koob said. ■