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The brain is one of the more complex
organs in the human body.
Think of it as the central
processing unit for human
function: information comes in,
it is processed, and then a
proper response or output is
released.
But what if the brain has trouble
processing?
For example if a person is
depressed they often do not feel
happy even when experiencing
something they normally enjoy.
Researchers suggest this could be
a result of the brains inability
to correctly assign emotional
associations to events. In a new
study from MIT, researchers
reveal how two populations of
neurons in the brain contribute
to the process of assigning
emotional associations by forming
two parallel channels that carry
information about pleasant or
unpleasant events.
Using mice the researchers first
tagged each population of neurons
with a light-sensitive protein
so they can be distinguished.
And then they trained the mice
to discriminate between two
different sounds: one associated
with a reward of sugar water, and
the other associated with the
bitter taste of quinine.
By analyzing the recorded neurons
researchers found not all of the
neurons reacted the same, and
saw patterns in different
populations defined by their
projection pathway. One group of
neurons was overall more excited
by the reward, while the other
was overall more excited about
the unpleasant taste.
Diving deeper into the details
of even more specific cell
populations is the next step to
fully understand how the brain
processes emotions. The
researchers hope their work will
shed light on mental illnesses
and lead to new therapies that
specifically target circuits
involved in kind of processing.