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Controlling the Brain’s Perception of Emotional Events

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(Great Neck, N.Y. - May 08, 2009) — In people who suffer from conditions such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional experiences can become distorted.

NARSAD Young Investigator Steven Laviolette, Ph.D., of the University of Western Ontario, and graduate fellow Nicole Lauzon have found key processes in the brain that control the emotional significance of experiences and how we form memories of them. The findings were published online on April 22 by the Journal of Neuroscience.

Using a rodent model, the researchers found that by increasing the activity of a specific receptor for the neurotransmitter dopamine in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, a normally insignificant emotional experience was transformed into a very strong emotional memory. By contrast, when a different subtype of the dopamine system was activated, it was able to block the ability to recall an emotionally charged experience.

“Our findings have profound implications for understanding how specific brain receptors can control the magnitude of emotional experience and memory formation,” stated Dr. Laviolette, a professor in the department of anatomy and cell Biology of the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the university.

“Targeting these receptor systems pharmacologically may offer new therapeutic treatments for controlling the emotional perception and memory deficits observed in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and PTSD.”

(The article was adapted with permission from the University of Western Ontario.)

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