Tucked into the temporal lobe, near the base of our brain, sits a small, almond-shaped region called the amygdala that processes our emotions. Neuroscientists at Tufts University have been investigating the symphony of signals created within a subsection of this area-the basolateral amygdala-to better understand how they contribute to negative feelings such as anxiety and fear.
“This emotional processing hub plays a role in a lot of different behaviors,” said Jamie Maguire, a Kenneth and JoAnn G. Wellner Professor of Neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine and a member of the neuroscience program faculty at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS). “We’re interested in how the network switches into these negative states, which is relevant to many different disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
In a recent paper published in the journal eNeuro, Maguire and her colleagues found that alcohol can change the pattern of activity in the basolateral amygdala in a mouse model, essentially telling the brain’s orchestra to play a different tune. This is the first study to show that alcohol is capable of altering these patterns, often referred to as network states. Their work opens the door to a better understanding of how the brain switches between different activity patterns associated with anxiety or other moods, which also may be relevant to alcohol dependence.