Beautiful views open up from heights, but it can be dangerous. They fear approaching the edge of the cliff — normal, but some people have panic fear of heights — acrophobia Scientists from China found out that certain neurons in the brain are behind it.
Panic fear of heights occurs in 2-5% of people, and more often in women than in men. Acrophobia can lead to such severe panic attacks that people are unable to go to a safe place on their own. they also have a fear of heights. The subjects were placed on a high open platform and some of them behaved in the same way as people with acrophobia: cautiously moved to the edge, and then suddenly ran back.
Analysis of brain images showed that at this time, the periaqueductal gray matter in the midbrain was activated in mice. It is known that this area is responsible for responding in an emergency situation. When the researchers turned off these neurons, the mice fearlessly explored the edges of the platform and even fell off it.
Scientists also checked other neurons that are connected to nerve cells in the periaqueductal serous substance and found that stimulation of one and suppression the others led to a similar result: the mouse, which was previously afraid of heights, gained courage.
Whether the same neural mechanisms will work in people with a fear of heights remains to be clarified in the course of further research. If the results are confirmed, scientists will be able to develop new methods of treating acrophobia.
So far, attempts have been made to treat this condition by gradually accustoming a person to heights, sometimes with the help of a virtual reality device.
Research was published in the online repository bioRxiv.