Animal Study Connects Fear Behavior, Rhythmic Breathing, Brain Smell Center


Source: Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

Summary: Researchers have added neurons associated with the olfactory system to the connection between behavior and breathing.


“Take a deep breath” is the mantra of every anxiety-reducing advice list ever written. And for good reason. There’s increasing physiological evidence connecting breathing patterns with the brain regions that control mood and emotion. In earlier studies, researchers found that ends of neurons in the nose have odor sensors as well as the ability to detect the rate of breathing. The nose really does double duty in its function. Researchers Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania have added neurons associated with the olfactory system to the connection between behavior and breathing. Connecting patterns in these interactions may help explain why practices such as meditation and yoga that rely on rhythmic breathing can help people overcome anxiety-based illnesses. The study findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Prelimbic prefrontal cortex

Florescent cells in the prelimbic prefrontal cortex brain regions, with inset of cells in olfactory brain regions that project to the prelimbic prefrontal area. Credit: Andrew Moberly, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

To tease apart these overlapping characteristics, the team first trained mice by pairing a specific sound with a light foot shock to induce “freezing” in the normally mobile mice. Freezing behavior is a quiescent period that is unusual for scurrying mice. When he plays the sound associated with the foot shock, “trained” mice literally freeze in their tracks. Other groups have observed that the amygdala and prelimbic prefrontal cortex, which govern learning and memory, emotion, and decision-making, were electrically active during “freezing,” at an average of 4 Hz. They observed that freeze behavior, breathing rate, and electrical activity of these brain regions were coordinated literally on the same wavelength.

Prof. Minghong Ma said, “What really drives our interest is finding out what we can extrapolate about this relationship to learn about the evolution of behavior and apply this knowledge to help ease the pain associated with such disorders as post-traumatic stress disorder.”


More Information: Andrew H. Moberly “Olfactory inputs modulate respiration-related rhythmic activity in the prefrontal cortex and freezing behavior” Nature Communications, (2018). DOI:10.1038/s41467-018-03988-1


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