Scientists have discovered in a worm study how one can perform complex tasks, even under stress-by activating latent neuronal circuits.
Roger Pocock, a newly arrived Group Leader at the research centre BRIC, University of Copenhagen, has claimed that organisms possess the remarkable ability to activate latent neuronal circuits under stressful conditions.
It is suggested that such circuits form part of an escape response that enables animals to sense their environment and adapt their behaviour under unfavourable conditions.
The Pocock laboratory uses the simple nervous system of the microscopic worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, to model how our environment modifies gene function, neuronal circuitry and behaviour.
Using C. elegans, which contains just 302 neurons, Pocock has identified a hidden neuronal circuit that modulates sensory perception under stress.
Specifically, the study discovered that physiological detection of hypoxic (low oxygen) stress results in the activation of a hidden neuronal circuit involving the neuromodulators serotonin and the neuropeptide Y receptor.
This work implicates that mechanisms coupling hypoxia, serotonin and neuropeptide signaling also modifies behaviour in mammals.
In fact, hypoxic stress enhances serotonin and neuropeptide production in specific regions of the mammalian brain, however, the functional output of this is poorly understood.
"These and other studies in the burgeoning field of environment-gene-neuron interactions will hopefully enable us to better understand how to cope with stress in our every-changing and busy lives" Nature quoted Pocock as saying.
This study has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.