- Feb 12, 2007
Experts Target The Source Of Human Worry
Scientists have for the first time pinpointed the "worry centre" of the brain in a discovery that could lead to new, more effective treatments for anxiety and depression.
MRI scans of people deliberately made anxious by the threat of an electric shock have identified the hippocampus - the brain's memory centre - as the source of the anxiety.
The study suggests new drugs that target the hippocampus rather than the whole brain should lead to future treatments with fewer side effects.
Stephen Williams, professor of neuroimaging at London's Institute of Psychiatry, told Sky News: "Now that we know the hippocampus is intimately involved in anxiety, we could think of treatments to modulate the activity in that part of the brain.
"There could be behavioural therapies or pharmaceutical interventions that suppress the heightened activity that goes along with this anxious state."
As the 13th volunteer in the study, I had to play a Pacman-style computer game in which I was chased by a red dot.
I then suffered a leg-jolting electric shock if I was caught.
MRI scans showed the visual and muscle control centres of the brain were highly active as I played the game, but so was the hippocampus.
According to researchers, memories of past experiences can subconsciously shape our normal reaction to threatening situations.
Anxiety helps people to judge risk and only when it becomes exaggerated does it become a problem.
Dr Adam Perkins said: "Once upon a time anxiety was thought of as something that had to be cured - something we learned from childhood, such as harsh potty training or some unfortunate childhood incident that made us an anxious person.
"We now know that for most people it's part of our general adaptive repertoire - in this case, keeping us safe."