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JNeurosci: Highlights from the May 3 issue

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Proactive Coping Attenuates Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are commonly treated with exposure therapy, during which patients confront their fears in a safe environment. Although exposure therapy can be effective in the short term, fears often return with time and in new situations. In this study, researchers explored whether a proactive coping mechanism called active avoidance, which diminishes fear responses in rodents, could be translated to humans. Healthy young adults first learned that pictures of a particular face were followed by a shock. One group learned to perform a simple task to prevent the shock, while in the other group the shocks eventually stopped and the participants learned to dissociate the face from the shock (emulating exposure therapy). When presented with the faces, both groups showed reduced anxiety as measured by the conductivity of their skin. The next day, those who had learned how to prevent the shocks maintained low responses to both the same faces and to new faces paired with an unpreventable shock. In contrast, the other group reacted strongly to both familiar and novel faces. Brain imaging showed that active avoidance engages the striatum, a region involved in learning to respond to threats or rewards. These findings suggest that having a sense of control over a threat may be an effective strategy for treating anxiety and for dealing with everyday challenges.

Corresponding author: Catherine A. Hartley, [email protected]

Marker of Brain Health in the Blood

The number of Americans age 65 and older is expected to reach nearly 100 million by 2060, more than double the present elderly population. Brain health is a key concern for an aging population, however it is very expensive to assess the integrity of brain tissue in living individuals. Using data from a large study of Mexican-American families living in San Antonio, researchers compared individuals' chronological age to their "biological age," a calculation based on analysis of DNA from blood samples. They find that individuals with a biological age greater than their chronological age have reduced integrity of the structural connections in the brain, known as white matter. Although the researchers observe a correlation, and more research is needed to determine the biology linking these processes, their work provides a potential biomarker for assessing brain health throughout aging.

Corresponding author: Karen Hodgson, [email protected]

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The Journal of Neuroscience is published by the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of nearly 37,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.

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