Today’s New York Times Reports Discovery About Brain’s Fear/Panic Response

NARSAD Grantee John A. Wemmie, M.D., Ph.D., neuroscientist, University of Iowa, Expert on panic disorders and other Anxiety Disorders
John A. Wemmie, M.D., Ph.D.

The unexpected outcome of research by NARSAD Grantee John A. Wemmie, M.D., Ph.D., neuroscientist, University of Iowa and his colleagues, has implications for the future study and treatment of people with panic disorders. Dr. Wemmie, senior author for the study published in the latest issue of Nature Neuroscience, and his team studied subjects with malfunctioning amygdalas—a fear-processing center of the brain.

The study participants were unable to experience fear when confronted with triggers ranging from insects to violence due to damage in their amygdalas. However, despite the abnormal functioning of their amygdalas, two of the study participants reported feelings of panic and one had a panic attack following an experiment in which they temporarily experienced the sensation of suffocation. Such strong reactions to the trigger are common in people with panic disorders.

This finding supports an earlier hypothesis by Antonio Damasio, University of Southern California and his team, which suggests that normal amygdala function is key to processing external threats, but another brain path processes fears related to bodily function. The findings also suggest that malfunctioning of the amygdala may play a role in panic disorders.

Read the full article in the New York Times