A team of Taiwanese, US and Hungarian researchers yesterday said that they have identified a group of cells that regulate anxiety in mice, which is expected to help reduce the side effects of anxiolytic drugs.
While about 2.8 million people in Taiwan in 2019 sought treatment for anxiety disorders, the number of people affected by anxiety might be larger than documented, Chen Hong-chen (陳鴻震), director-general of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Department of Life Sciences told a news conference in Taipei.
How to regulate anxiety is vital for people in the information era, as well as for brain scientists, and the ministry is seeking more funding for brain-related research to catch up with more advanced countries, he said.
While the hippocampus, amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex are known to affect anxiety and melancholy, the team found that mossy cells — a group of neurons in the hippocampal dentate gyrus — correlate with anxiogenic factors in the environment, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (NYCU) professor Lien Cheng-chang (連正章) said.
The team used calcium imaging tools to observe neurological activity in the mice when they were exploring open or closed spaces in labyrinth models.
When the mice explored an anxiogenic environment that was bright and open, their mossy cell activity significantly increased, while their mossy cell activity dropped when they entered a closed space, showing that they felt safer, Lien said.
The team next used optogenetic and chemogenetic tools to regulate mossy cell activity in the mice and found that they performed less anxiety-induced avoidance behavior when their mossy cells were active, he said.
The paper, whose lead author was NYCU doctoral student Wang Kai-yi (王凱誼), was published in the journal Cell Reports on Sept. 14, with the paper featured on the issue’s cover.
Artist Tsai Yu-lin (蔡鈺麟), the father of NYCU assistant professor Tsai Yu-huan (蔡雨寰), painted the cover illustration after being inspired by the mossy cells’ shape and the optogenetic technique used by the team.
Kazu Nakazawa of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the US and Gabor Tamas of the University of Szeged in Hungary also contributed to the team’s research.
The team in Taiwan imported frozen sperm of a transgenic mouse model from the US, while Tamas’ team helped set up an in vivo juxtacellular recording technique, Lien said.
Hopefully, the team’s research will improve the understanding of anxiety and foster new treatments with fewer side effects, he said.
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