New technologies are allowing us to explore the brain as never before. We are entering a new era in neuroscience where our knowledge of the brain is beginning to match the urgent need to prevent and treat diseases of the brain.

Decoding the chemistry of fear

The complexity of the human brain makes fear—and its close cousin, anxiety—difficult to study. Associate Professor Sreekanth Chalasani, UC San Diego graduate student and first author Amy Pribadi and colleagues discovered new clues about the mechanisms of fear and anxiety through an unlikely creature: the tiny nematode worm.

By analyzing the responses of worms exposed to chemicals secreted by its natural predator and studying the underlying molecular pathways, the team uncovered a rudimentary fear-like response that has parallels to human anxiety. The work was published in March 2018 in Nature Communications. Such insights may eventually help refine prescriptions for current anti-anxiety drugs and enable the development of new drugs to treat, for example, PTSD and panic disorder.

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