January 7, 2011

The Space Between

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Nerve cell "spark plugs" could help reduce PTSD, dementia

(dailyRx News) UCLA scientists believe that targeting the neurons between cells can help treat patients suffering from anxiety and memory disorders.

The number of people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and those with Alzheimer's disease are shockingly similar: 5.2 million are afflicted with PTSD, while an estimated 5.3 suffer from Alzheimer's. Both are disorders related to memory.

Recently, scientists at UCLA have found what they consider to be an important and previously ignored target for memory and anxiety disorders. When trauma occurs, animals and humans associate the location and any other elements present with feelings of fear. This is due to reactions in the brain's nerve cells.

This has been attributed to cell communication along synapses, the space between neurons (nerve cells). Additional cells exist in this space as well, creating electrical contact called "gap junctions."

Scientists are now theorizing that these gap junctions and the sparks they create are responsible for triggering fear in PTSD victims. By using drugs to inhibit these reactions, they were able to prevent fear associations in mice.

On the other hand, enhancing gap junctions, which help nerve cells communicate, could possibly improve necessary memory formation. Such a tactic could help patients who suffer from impaired memory, like those with Alzheimer's disease.

Associating fear with places, "fear memories," is a major component of anxiety disorders. Learning how to better manipulate gap junctions could be key in providing help for trauma victims and maybe even jump-starting memory in dementia patients.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
January 7, 2011

Last Updated:
January 7, 2011