The Memory Part of The Brain May Also Hold Clues For Anxiety and Depression


Source: University of Toronto

Summary: Researchers found that a specific part of the hippocampus could play an important role in emotional regulation, a finding that calls into question our understanding of how exactly this part of the brain works.


The hippocampus is a seahorse-shaped structure located deep inside the brain. As part of the limbic system, it plays an important role in memory processing and spatial cognition, including how mammals learn to understand and navigate their environment. Researchers have long looked at the hippocampus for its role in memory and dementia, especially in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s patients for instance, this region is one of the first areas of the brain to suffer damage. But a team of neuroscientists from the University of Toronto found that a specific part of the hippocampus could play an important role in emotional regulation, a finding that calls into question our understanding of how exactly this part of the brain works. The study findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

Brain area

Assistant Professor Rutsuko Ito (left) and postdoctoral fellow Annett Schumacher in the Neurobiology of Learning and Motivation Lab at U of T Scarborough. Credit: U of T Scarborough

For this study, the team looked at the ventral hippocampus in rats, a sub-region that correlates to the anterior hippocampus in humans. They wanted to see what role two further subareas of the ventral hippocampus, called the CA1 and CA3 play in terms of approach-avoidance conflict processing. Approach-avoidance conflict is a model used in psychology to test how animals deal with regulating fear and anxiety. It basically offers a situation that involves a decision about whether to pursue or avoid something that could have both positive and negative aspects to it. What they found is that after temporarily inactivating the CA1, it increased avoidance of the conflict. Meanwhile, inactivating the CA3 increased approach behaviour to the conflict.

Assoc. Prof. Rutsuko Ito said, “the next step is to explore which connections to the CA1, CA3, or other parts of the brain could be responsible for this effect.”


More Information: Anett Schumacher et al. Ventral Hippocampal CA1 and CA3 Differentially Mediate Learned Approach-Avoidance Conflict Processing, Current Biology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.03.012 


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