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Health Agencies Update
August 24/31, 2005

The Brain and Behavior

JAMA. 2005;294(8):893. doi:10.1001/jama.294.8.893-d

A rare genetic disorder called Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS) is providing new insights into regions of the brain involved in human social behavior, according to research by scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health. The study was published online on July 10 in Nature Neuroscience (Meyer-Lindenberg et al. http://www.nature.com/neuro/).

Using functional neuroimaging, the investigators were able to detect changes in specific brain networks that help explain why individuals with WBS are highly social and empathetic even with strangers yet have phobias and excessive worrying in nonsocial settings. When 13 participants with WBS were shown pictures of angry or fearful faces, the amygdala showed considerably reduced brain activation compared with the amygdala of matched controls; viewing pictures of threatening scenes without people caused the amygdala response to be abnormally increased in those with WBS.

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