The Origin of Fear

Have you ever wondered, biologically, where fear begins? Fear is an emotion controlled and processed in the amygdalae, almond-shaped bundles of nuclei found deep inside the medial temporal lobes. The amygdalae are also responsible for processing the memory of emotional reactions.

This year, research by scientists at CalTech found that the amygdalae feature a microcircuit that controls the outflow of fear. Two different types of neurons in the amygdalae work against each other, creating a seesaw effect. When the neurons become unbalanced, fear results. Then the fear impulse is translated to other areas of the brain that control behavior.

The research is interesting because it could open the door for new drugs to treat the source of fear, which will help the many people who suffer from phobia, stress, and anxiety disorders. As a sedation dentist, I currently use IV sedation to allow my patients to fall asleep during dental procedures. Once asleep, my patients can’t have the fear impulse or react to it. However, I do hope that this research by CalTech, and other research projects, lead to more treatment options for my phobic dental patients.

For more information about the CalTech research project, visit If you suffer from dental phobia and would like to talk with me, call my office, Back Mountain Dental in Trucksville. I’m Dr. James DeFinnis, and I serve patients from the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area.

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