Scientists Identify Mechanism That Helps us Inhibit Unwanted Thoughts


Source: University of Cambridge

Summary: Researchers have identified an important chemical within the brain’s memory region which allows to suppress unwanted thoughts.


In our lives, sometimes we are confronted with many unwanted thoughts about memories, images or worries which are unpleasant. When this happens, the thoughts are retrieved and we think about them again and again even though we do not like to. Being reminded will not be a problem when our thoughts are positive, but if the incident is unpleasant or traumatic, the thoughts will be very negative and worrying. Our ability to control our thoughts basically depends on our well being. When this ability breaks down, it results in debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases – intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations and persistent worries. Researchers at the University of Cambridge Researchers have identified an important chemical within the brain’s memory region which allows to suppress unwanted thoughts. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Anxiety, Depression symptomsResearchers have found that the ability to stop unwanted thoughts depends on a neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a chemical inside the brain which allows to pass messages between neurons. GABA acts as the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and its release by one nerve cell can suppress the activity in other cells to which it is connected. The GABA concentrations within the hippocampus predict one’s ability to block the retrieval process and thereby preventing unwanted thoughts and memories from returning. Studies have shown that elevated activity in the hippocampus is seen in conditions such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and chronic depression. Therefore improving the hippocampal GABA activity may help people to stop unwanted and intrusive thoughts.

According to Dr. Schmitz, “The environmental and genetic influences that give rise to hyperactivity in the hippocampus might underlie a range of disorders with intrusive thoughts as a common symptom.”

Prof. Anderson said, “Most of the focus has been on improving functioning of the prefrontal cortex”, “but our study suggests that if you could improve GABA activity within the hippocampus, this may help people to stop unwanted and intrusive thoughts.”


More Information: Taylor W. Schmitz et al. “Hippocampal GABA enables inhibitory control over unwanted thoughts”, Nature Communications, (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00956-z


 

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