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Researchers one step closer to Holy Grail of neurobiology

nding general arousal may help scientists develop pharmacological methods to enhance alertness during the day and sleep at night. Analyzing the mechanisms of arousal may lead to a more precise anesthesiology.

The operational definition of arousal proposed by the Rockefeller researchers states that an aroused animal or human will be more sensitive to sensory stimuli, be physically more active; and react more emotionally. According to Pfaff, this definition allows for interaction among arousal states. In other words, changes in sexual arousal could dampen or increase response to pain, or vice versa.

"The overall state of arousal at any given moment is going to be a function both of the person's global, or generalized, arousal state and any individual arousal states that might be present," says Pfaff.

Using the equation, the researchers were able to perform what they call a "principal components analysis" of a series of behavioral experiments with laboratory mice that measured the animal's response to sensory stimuli, motor activity and emotional reactivity. They found that a "generalized arousal function" underlies about one-third of all the data in arousal-related tasks.

"The existence of a generalized arousal function is not exclusive of several specific forms of arousal," says Pfaff. "For example, if you scare the heck out of me, I'm more likely to react strongly if I'm generally aroused anyway, whereas if I'm asleep, I'm just a bit sluggish in my response."

To understand how changes in the expression of specific genes can influence arousal, the scientists studied changes in arousal of two different types of genetically altered mice: one mouse lacked the gene for the estrogen receptor-alpha, while the other was missing the gene for the estrogen receptor-beta.

"Estrogens, sex behavior and sexual arousal are useful as a 'bridge' to the discovery of fundamental arousal mechanisms," says Pfaff. "Beca
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Contact: Joseph Bonner
bonnerj@rockefeller.edu
212-327-8998
Rockefeller University
14-Aug-2003


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