UCLA’s Dr. Michael Fanselow: Understanding post-traumatic stress and how to treat it

July 25, 2017

Michael Fanselow is a Distinguished Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at UCLA and Director of Staglin Family Music Festival Center for Brain and Behavioral Health at UCLA. Fanselow’s research through the Center focuses on uncovering the neurobiological bases for anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress. Specifically, Fanselow has studied why humans overgeneralize fear, which causes individuals to experience fear even in safe places. Studying animal models has enabled Fanselow to determine that neural activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain involved in processing emotions, increases during moments of overgeneralization. To build on this finding, another project showed that the activity of the neurotransmitters in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory formation, was linked with learning to fear specific places. In collaboration with Naomi Eisenberger, Professor of Social Psychology at UCLA, Fanselow studied patients engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy, a gold standard treatment for several mental illnesses. Studying these individuals has shown that patients gain more from a therapy session when a friend or family member is present. These fruitful research studies have enabled Fanselow to secure a grant from the National Institute for Mental Health, to examine the neural mechanisms that may explain why women are more likely to develop anxiety disorders than men.

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