New findings in a U.S. study have uncovered a brain mechanism that can cause stress


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Salt Lake City – More than 33% of adults In Utah, they report having symptoms of anxiety and/or depression – a figure that has only risen in recent years. But a study by health scientists at the University of Utah may be one of the first steps toward understanding the causes of stress and anxiety-related conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The study was published a few weeks ago in a scientific journal Molecular psychiatryResearchers have found that through cell stimulation, a certain brain cell called microglia not only acts as a “garbage collector” – a cell that removes the brain’s dying neurons – but can also control stress-related behaviors.

Navin Nagarajan, geneticist, neuroscientist and lead author of the study, and Nobel laureate Mario Capecchi First, it was discovered that microglia harbored a mutation in a gene called Hoxb8, which caused mice to exhibit stress-related compulsive behaviors such as self-harm.

To better understand the function of microglia, the scientists used optogenetics, which uses lasers to stimulate cells combined with genetic engineering and laser technology. Both scientists exposed microglia cells to their test subjects and documented how they responded.

By using laser exposure to open light-sensitive channels and allow ions to enter microglia, they were able to turn their stress on and off by turning the laser on and off, Kepchi said.

According to Nagarajan, the results were surprising.

When they light up microglia in different areas of the brain, the mice show stress-related behaviors, such as grooming themselves, freezing, or generally increasing anxiety. When you turn off the laser, the features stop immediately.

“What it means for human health or what it means for the future is that the discovery is not limited to stimulating cells and seeing their behavior. The discovery is that these microglia cells play an important role in controlling the function of the neural circuit.” Nagarajan said.

“Some stress and adaptation are actually useful. We use stress to motivate and comfort us. It’s just too bad if stress is chronic or the adaptation is pathological.”

– Mario Capecchi, Nobel laureate and senior author of the study

By understanding how microglia regulate nerve activity, Nagarajan and Kepchi can investigate how microglia regulate and control stress.

Capecchi added how an imbalance between two different types of microglia contributes to stress. When both types remain in balance, stress and pathology treatment becomes possible; Pathological behavior is controlled only when they are out of balance.

“Some stress and adaptation are really useful. We use stress to motivate us and to comfort us,” said Captchi. “When anxiety is chronic or the obsession is pathological, it’s too much, too bad.”

To further the experiment, scientists need to investigate the types of chemicals released by microglia and how they stimulate neural behavior. By looking at the chemical triggers of microglia’s responses, Nagarajan says, they can better identify the causes of stress — and from there, find ways to better treat the disease.

“By targeting these specific receptors or specific chemicals released by microglia, we can correct those differences — so that brings us closer to treatments,” Nagajaran said. “This effect is different from all the drugs that are currently in the field or on the market. We can say that they alleviate the symptoms, but they never cure the disease.” “

But the process of developing drugs and finding treatments is still a long process, taking years to complete, according to Kepchi.

“We’re at the beginning of the steps, but it’s a new beginning because no one has thought of using this approach,” Capchi said. “The work is just – it’s unfolding, it’s still unfolding. There are hundreds of questions we can ask now.”

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