Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists uncover new clues about brain function in human behavior

12.07.2005


Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, have discovered a genetically controlled brain mechanism responsible for social behavior in humans--one of the most important but least understood aspects of human nature. The findings are reported in Nature Neuroscience, published online on July 10, 2005.



The study compared the brains of healthy volunteers to those with a genetic abnormality, Williams Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes unique changes in social behavior. This comparison enabled the researchers to both define a brain circuit for social function in the healthy human brain, and identify the specific way in which it was affected by genetic changes in Williams Syndrome.

People with Williams Syndrome who are missing about 21 genes on chromosome seven are highly social and empathetic, even in situations that would elicit fear and anxiety in healthy people. They will eagerly, and often impulsively, engage in social interactions, even with strangers. However, they experience increased anxiety that is non-social, such as fear of spiders or heights (phobias) and worry excessively.


For several years, scientists have suspected that abnormal processing in the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain, may be involved in this striking pattern of behavior. The amygdala’s response and regulation are thought to be critical to people’s social behavior through the monitoring of daily life events such as danger signals. Scientists know from animal studies that damage to the amygdala impairs social functioning.

"Social interactions are central to human experience and well-being, and are adversely affected in psychiatric illness. This may be the first study to identify functional disturbances in a brain pathway associated with abnormal social behavior caused by a genetic disorder," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.

In this study, investigators used functional brain imaging (fMRI) to study the amygdala and structures linked to it in 13 participants with Williams Syndrome who were selected to have normal intelligence (Williams Syndrome is usually associated with some degree of mental retardation or learning impairment) and compared to healthy controls. Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, M.D., Ph.D., and Karen Berman, M.D., from the NIMH Genes, Cognition, and Psychosis Program, and colleagues, then showed participants pictures of angry or fearful faces. Such faces are known to be highly socially relevant danger signals that strongly activate the amygdala. The fMRI showed considerably less activation of the amygdala in participants with Williams Syndrome than in the healthy volunteers (see graphic below). These findings suggest that reduced danger signaling by the amygdala in response to social stimuli might be responsible for their fearlessness in social interactions.

Next, researchers showed the study participants pictures of threatening scenes (a burning building or a plane crash), which did not have any people or faces in them and thus had no immediate social component. In remarkable contrast to the response to faces, the amygdala response to threatening scenes was abnormally increased in participants with Williams Syndrome (see graphic below), mirroring their severe non-social anxiety.

"The amygdala response perfectly reflected the unique profile of social and non-social anxiety in Williams Syndrome," said Meyer-Lindenberg. "Because our data showed that the amygdala did still function, although abnormally, in Williams Syndrome, we wondered whether it might be its regulation by other brain regions that was the cause of the amygdala abnormalities."

To investigate this, the scientists looked at the whole brain to identify other regions where reactivity was different between Williams’s participants and healthy volunteers. They identified three areas of the prefrontal cortex, located in the front part of the brain, that have been implicated in decision-making, representation of social knowledge, and judgment. Those regions are the dorsolateral, the medial, and the orbitofrontal cortex. Specifically, the dorsolateral area is thought to establish and maintain social goals governing an interaction; the medial area has been associated with empathy and regulation of negative emotion; and orbitofrontal region is involved in assigning emotional values to a situation.

The researchers found a delicate network by which these three regions modulate amygdala activity. In Williams Syndrome, this fragile system was significantly abnormal, particularly the orbitofrontal cortex. This area did not activate for either task and was not functionally linked to the amygdala, as it was in healthy controls. Instead, the scientists observed increased activity and linkage in the medial region, which is consistent with the high level of empathy exhibited by people with Williams Syndrome.

"We had previously seen that the orbitofrontal cortex is structurally abnormal in Williams Syndrome, but we didn’t know what role it played functionally in the disorder; it is now clear that this area can play a major role in producing social behavioral abnormalities," said Berman. "The over-activity of the medial-prefrontal cortex may be compensatory, but the result is still an abnormal fear response. The medial-prefrontal cortex still works and in fact it is working over-time because it may be the only thing that still regulates the amygdala in Williams Syndrome."

Jennifer Loukissas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nih.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel

nachricht Researchers develop eco-friendly, 4-in-1 catalyst
25.04.2017 | Brown University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>