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Mice Reveal Key to Conquering Fear

Finding May Lead to New Anxiety Treatments
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Oct. 16, 2002 -- Researchers say they've identified a unique molecular process in the brain of mice that's responsible for conquering fear. The finding could point to new treatments for anxiety disorders.

The study shows that certain electrical switches in the brain, known as L-type voltage-gated calcium channels (LVGCCs), are required to overcome fear yet play no role in becoming afraid or expressing that fear. That is, they found that learning to be afraid of something, and expressing that fear, are separate and distinct processes from "unlearning" or conquering that fear.

The findings appear in the Oct. 15 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

With colleagues, Mark Barad, MD, PhD, faculty scholar at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute's Tennenbaum Family Center, used drugs to block the activity of the electrical switches in the brains of mice. They found that blocking the switches had no effect on whether the mice learned to fear something or were able to express that fear, but it did prevent the animals from overcoming their fear.

And this might hold a clue to what's going on in some human anxiety disorders -- and offer potential new ways to treat them more effectively.

Right now, behavior therapy is "the most efficacious treatment for human anxiety disorders," the researchers write. And "this discovery holds out hope for the development of new drugs that can make such therapy easier and more effective by [helping people unlearn acquired fears]." -->

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