PAC1R-expressing dorsal raphe neurons in the mouse brain (red) serve as the projection targets for PACAP parabrachial neurons to mediate panic-like behavioral and physical symptoms. Credit: Salk Institute
Topics: Biology, Medicine, Research, Science
Overwhelming fear, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate—these are the symptoms of a panic attack, which people with panic disorder have frequently and unexpectedly. Creating a map of the regions, neurons, and connections in the brain that mediate these panic attacks can provide guidance for developing more effective panic disorder therapeutics.
Now, Salk researchers have begun to construct that map by discovering a brain circuit that mediates panic disorder. This circuit consists of specialized neurons that send and receive a neuropeptide—a small protein that sends messages throughout the brain—called PACAP. What's more, they determined that PACAP and the neurons that produce its receptor are possible druggable targets for new panic disorder treatments.
The findings were published in Nature Neuroscience.
"We've been exploring different areas of the brain to understand where panic attacks start," says senior author Sung Han, associate professor at Salk.
"Previously, we thought the amygdala, known as the brain's fear center, was mainly responsible—but even people who have damage to their amygdala can still experience panic attacks, so we knew we needed to look elsewhere. Now, we've found a specific brain circuit outside of the amygdala that is linked to panic attacks and could inspire new panic disorder treatments that differ from currently available panic disorder medications that typically target the brain's serotonin system."