Sadness Circuit Found In Human Brain : Shots

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Patients awaiting epilepsy surgery agreed to keep a running log of their mood while researchers used tiny wires to monitor electrical activity in their brains. The combination revealed a circuit for sadness.

Stuart Kinlough/Ikon Images/Getty Images


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Stuart Kinlough/Ikon Images/Getty Images

Patients awaiting epilepsy surgery agreed to keep a running log of their mood while researchers used tiny wires to monitor electrical activity in their brains. The combination revealed a circuit for sadness.

Stuart Kinlough/Ikon Images/Getty Images

Scientists may have caught a glimpse of what sadness looks like in the brain.

A study of 21 people found that for most, feeling down was associated with greater communication between brain areas involved in emotion and memory, a team from the University of California, San Francisco reported Thursday in the journal Cell.

“There was one network that over and over would tell us whether they were feeling happy or sad,” says Vikaas Sohal, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCSF.

The finding could lead to a better understanding of mood disorders, and perhaps new ways of treating them.

Previous research had established that sadness and other emotions involve the amygdala, an almond-shaped mass found in each side of the brain. And there was also evidence that the hippocampus, which is associated with memory, can play a role in emotion.

But Sohal and the other researchers were curious about precisely what these and other brain areas are doing when someone’s mood shifts.

“We really wanted to get at, you know, when you’re feeling down or feeling happy, what exactly is happening in the brain at those moments,” Sohal says.

You can’t get that information from brain scans, which don’t capture changes that happen in fractions of a second. So the team studied 21 people who were in the hospital awaiting brain surgery for severe epilepsy.

Before the surgery, doctors insert tiny wires into the brain and monitor its electrical activity for up to a week.

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