Serotonin May Play Role in Reacting to Emergency Situations
Node Smith, ND
Known for its role in relieving depression, the neurochemical serotonin may also help the brain execute instantaneous, appropriate behaviors in emergency situations, according to a new Cornell study published Feb. 1 in Science.
Serotonin may help the brain execute appropriate behaviors in emergency situations
The researchers studied brain activity patterns in mice. If a mouse was experiencing a threat, dorsal raphe serotonin neurons would fire during movements. But, when there was a calm, positive environment, these serotonin neurons would fire during pauses in active behavior.
“This switch really surprised us,” said senior author Melissa Warden, assistant professor and the Miriam M. Salpeter Fellow in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. “It was our first clue that something really strange might be going on in the brain in emergency situations.”
What happens during emergency fight-or-flight situations
In emergency fight-or-flight situations, behavioral choices are different from the decisions an animal might make in less-critical situations. For example, if a mouse sits in the middle of an exposed field and a hawk spies it for food, the mouse may see the hawk start to swoop in and the mouse’s survival instinct tells it to run. The escape response is appropriate, Warden said.
“But if the hawk is flying overhead and it hasn’t seen the mouse, but the mouse has seen the hawk, it is appropriate for the mouse to freeze in place to avoid being detected,” she said. “In this situation, freezing in place is a better decision than attempting to flee, because the odds of survival are higher.”
In high-threat situations, stimulating serotonin neurons elicits escape attempts. In lower threat environments, stimulating these neurons causes pausing.
Thus, stimulating serotonin neurons is probably promoting the context-appropriate response. “It may cause animals to react to their environment, to do what’s appropriate in light of the current situation,” Warden said.
‘Emergency brain’ operates differently
Like a global command center, serotonin sends signals all over the brain, she said. Fully understanding how this system prompts different behaviors in different environments may shed light on the role of other systems in the brain.
Warden had this to say: “Considering the widespread distribution of serotonin neurons throughout the brain, this finding raises the possibility that the ’emergency brain’ operates in a fundamentally different way.”
From Cornell University
Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and associate editor and continuing education director for NDNR. His mission is serving relationships that support the process of transformation, and that ultimately lead to healthier people, businesses and communities. His primary therapeutic tools include counselling, homeopathy, diet and the use of cold water combined with exercise. Node considers health to be a reflection of the relationships a person or a business has with themselves, with God and with those around them. In order to cure disease and to heal, these relationships must be specifically considered. Node has worked intimately with many groups and organizations within the naturopathic profession, and helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic Revitalization (ANR), which works to promote and facilitate experiential education in vitalism.
Node Smith graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in 2017, and is currently licensed as a naturopathic physician in Oregon and working towards becoming licensed in Saskatchewan, Canada as well.