Receptor Responsible for Controlling Emotions, Memories Uncovered

April 27, 2009

New research from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario has shown that certain receptors in the brain are responsible for the way that humans process emotions and create memories.

New research from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario has shown that certain receptors in the brain are responsible for the way that humans process emotions and create memories.

Dr. Steven Laviolette and Nicole Lauzon, a graduate student in Laviolette’s laboratory, found that specific receptors for dopamine are responsible for the processing of significant emotional events and the memories that are created from them. A rodent model showed that an increase in the activity of dopamine in the pre-frontal cortex turned “a normally insignificant emotional experience into a very strong emotional memory.” However, they also found that, when a “different subtype of the dopamine system was activated,” the brain was able to block remembering the experience.

According to information from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 1.1% of the U.S. population who are age 18 years and older are affected by schizophrenia each year. Also according to the NIMH, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impacts “millions of Americans each year.” Schizophrenia and PTSD are two disorders for which Laviolette hopes these findings will provide new treatment options. “Our findings have profound implications for understanding how specific brain receptors can control the magnitude of emotional experience and memory formation,” Laviolette said. “Targeting these receptor systems pharmacologically may offer new therapeutic treatments for controlling the emotional perception and memory deficits observed in psychiatric disorders such as Schizophrenia and PTSD.”

Click here for an abstract of the journal article that appeared in Neuroscience.

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