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Vision zone may push brain’s panic button

MONASH (AUS) — An area of the brain that specializes in detecting fast-moving objects in peripheral vision may be a new target for treating panic disorders.

The area, known as prostriata, is located in a primitive part of the cerebral cortex and has characteristics unlike any other visual area described before, including a “direct line” of communication to brain areas controlling emotion and quick reactions.

Hsin-Hao Yu of Monash University says the discovery could lead to new treatments for panic disorders such as agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) and may extend into other medical areas, including Alzheimer’s treatment. The findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

“The brain is the most complex organ in the human body and perhaps the most remarkable. These findings change how we think of the brain in terms of how visual information is processed,” Yu says.

“This area is likely to be hyperactive in panic disorder, with agoraphobia. This knowledge could lead to treatment options for the hyperactivity, and therefore sensitivity to such disorders, particularly the fear of open spaces.

“Correlation with previous studies also shows that prostriata is one of the first areas affected in Alzheimer’s disease. This knowledge helps to explain spatial disorientation and the tendency to fall, which are among the earliest signs of a problem associated with Alzheimer’s.”

Marcello Rosam, a professor in Monash University’s physiology department who co-led the research, says this area had ultra-fast responses to visual stimuli, simultaneously broadcasting information to brain areas that control attention, emotional and motor reactions. This challenges current conceptions of how the brain processes visual information.

“This suggests a specialized brain circuit through which stimuli in peripheral vision can be fast-tracked to command quickly coordinated physical and emotional responses,” Rosa says.

More news from Monash University: www.monash.edu.au/news/latest

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