Researchers at University of Washington claim that they have for the first time located the neurons responsible for fear conditioning in the mammalian brain.
The researchers have revealed that an imaging technique enabled them to trace the process of neural activation in the brains of rats.
They say that their study has pinpointed the basolateral nucleus in the region of the brain called the amygdala as the place where fear conditioning is encoded.
Scientists previously believed that both the amygdala and another brain region, the dorsal hippocampus, were where cues get associated when fear memories are formed.
The new study, however, has shown that the role of the hippocampus is to process and transmit information about conditioned stimuli to the amygdala.
"By understanding the process of fear conditioning we might learn how to treat anxiety by making the conditioning weaker or to go away. It is also a tool for learning about these brain cells and the underlying mechanism of fear conditioning," says Ilene Bernstein, a UW professor of Psychology.
A research article on the study has been published in PLoS One, a journal of the Public Library of Science.