Injection could cure phobias
Posted: 03-28-2010

Injection could cure phobias

Fear of spiders, sharks, snakes, heights and other phobias could be cured by a simple injection which prevents people from learning to be afraid, claim scientists.

A team of researchers have found that the brain may be able to be 're-programmed' to overcome some of our most basic fears.

Scientists claim that because fear is a learned habit, they could be able to switch off the part of the brain that generates those emotions with a simple jab.

Early tests showed that goldfish given a dose of the drug lidocaine were unable to be scared.

Researchers in Japan say the findings, published in BioMed Central's open access journal, Behavioural and Brain Functions, would be a relief for people who suffer chronic phobias that affect their everyday lives.

Prof Masayuki Yoshida, of the University of Hiroshima, said the results of his research were exciting.

"One day, our irrational phobias could become a thing of the past," he said.

"Imagine if your fear of spiders, heights or flying could be cured with a simple injection - our research suggests that one day this could be a reality."

Prof Yoshida studied the cerebellum, which was thought to be involved with the development of fears, in goldfish and humans.
Using classical conditioning, Prof Masayuki Yoshida taught goldfish to become afraid of a light flashed in their eyes.

Prof Yoshida said: "By administering a low voltage electric shock every time a light was shone, the fish were taught to associate the light with being shocked, which slowed their hearts the typical fish reaction to a fright.

"As you would expect, the goldfish we used in our study soon became afraid of the flash of light because, whether or not we actually gave them a shock, they had quickly learned to expect one.

"Fear was demonstrated by their heart beats decreasing, in a similar way to how our heart rate increases when someone gives us a fright."
The researchers then injected the goldfish with a common local anaesthetic called lidocaine and repeated the tests again.

Prof Yoshida said that when the fish were given a dose of the drug they did not show the same fear when a light was shone in their eyes.

"We discovered that fish that had first been injected in the cerebellum with lidocaine had stable heart rates and showed no fear when the light was shone they were unable to learn to become afraid," he said.

Prof Yoshida said that because the brains of goldfish were similar to those of mammals, including humans, it was hoped that with further study it may soon be possible to understand more about the biological and chemical processes that cause us to become afraid.

For the goldfish, the effect of lidocaine was only temporary fearless fish return to being frightened fish as soon as the anaesthetic has worn off.

Nevertheless, one day, our irrational phobias could become a thing of the past, he said.

Prof Yoshida said humans can also be "trained" to become afraid, and in fact, simple classical conditioning rooted in our childhood and early development can explain many of our behaviours.
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