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That gut feeling! Cork research shows its role in fear responses

Tuesday, 16th May, 2017 10:47am

Cork scientists have uncovered the role that gut can play in regulating fear!

The research has shown that it may be possible to control fear by changing the bacteria in the gut.

It further strengthens the links between the gut and the brain and shows that bacteria is necessary for fear responses, in mice at least.

Studies showed that gut bacteria can trigger fear in mice in one part of the brain, called the amygdala.

This may have implications for treatments of disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorders, the Cork-based reserachers have said.

The research showed that the microbiome - the collective trillions of bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract - regulates fear responses and modifies the brain function of adult mice.

The study was conducted by scientists at University College Cork.

Using microbe-free mice, Professor John F Cryan and Dr Gerard Clarke, along with their PhD student Alan Hoban, have shown that growing up in a germ-free bubble results in blunted fear responses.

Fear is a normal response that allows an individual to deal with an impending threat in the environment.

The neurobiology of fear is evolutionarily hardwired and tightly regulated by the amygdala.

Understanding the factors that regulate fear and fear-associated memories is an important step towards developing therapies for disorders where excessive brain responses to fear memories are manifested, such as post-traumatic stress disorders.

Although, more work is needed to advance the understanding of the mechanisms behind the relationship between the microbiota and fear responses, Prof Cryan said: “It is likely that key signals from the gut to the brain act as regulators of the fear response”.

Furthermore, he says that understanding what these mechanisms are may open up the use of innovative microbiome-based strategies for tackling fear-related disorders.

Their research is being published in the nature journal 'Molecular Psychiatry' and was supported by Science Foundation Ireland through a grant to the APC Microbiome Institute and by the Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation.

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