Number of serotonin receptors influences brain's response to fear and stress

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 16 How we respond to stressful situations and difficult times could be due in part to dominance of one cell-surface marker over another in a region of the brain involved in regulating emotional responses and behaviors, suggests results of a University of Pittsburgh study presented today at Neuroscience 2005, the 35th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. These two markers both receptors that determine what effect the neurotransmitter serotonin has on a neuron appear to be key intermediaries influencing emotional state and behavior during stress.

In a localized area of the prefrontal cortex, where thought and action are orchestrated, the number and ratio of serotonin receptors were found to be directly correlated to the activity of another part of the brain called the amygdala, critical for producing emotional states such as fear. According to Ahmad Hariri, Ph.D., who led the research, these findings bring focus to what could be a fundamental factor contributing to the development of risk for psychiatric disorders and a key molecular mechanism to target as new therapies are developed.

A great deal of research has looked at the association between the amygdala and emotional behaviors and psychiatric diseases such as depression and anxiety, but relatively few studies have considered the added importance of the subgenual prefrontal cortex and its relationship to amygdala activity. The subgenual prefrontal cortex is one area where communication, or cross talk, takes place between the impulsive, reflexive amygdala and the more logical, staid prefrontal cortex.

"Our previous findings suggest that the subgenual prefrontal cortex provides an important forum for the cross talk that is necessary for regulating emotions and emotional behaviors. Now we're learning that serotonin receptors in this region are serving as important mediators in that discussion, contributing to how we will eventually behave or respond in str


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