A team of researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center led by Dr. Linda Buck, a biologist and a Nobel Prize winner, has discovered a small area of the mouse brain that plays an important role in fear. They studied the scent-induced fear response in mice by exposing them to the smell of bobcat’s urine, who is their natural predator. Remarkably, even laboratory mice who had never encountered bobcats responded to the smell with fear. Using a new technique that uses specially-engineered viruses to uncover the nerve pathway involved, the researchers were able to identify a small region of the olfactory cortex, a part of the brain responsible for perceiving odors, called "amygdalo-piriform transition area" or AmPir. This area of the brain is responsible for inducing reactions triggered by smell. According to Buck, this study is important “not just to understand the basic biology and functions of the brain, but also for potentially finding evolutionarily conserved neural circuits and genes that play an important role in humans.”
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