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Study Highlights How Psilocybin Impacts Auditory Cortex, Causing Perception Changes

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New research has generated new insights into how psilocybin influences the auditory cortex in mice models. Psilocybin is a natural psychedelic compound that is found in more than 200 species of fungi. The compound is known to induce altered states of consciousness when ingested, including changes in cognition, mood and perception.

Various studies have investigated the compound’s effectiveness in treating mental-health disorders, including anxiety and depression. While its therapeutic potential is evident, the exact mechanisms via which this psychedelic alters perception and brain function aren’t well understood.

Prior studies have shown that psilocybin alters activity patterns in the brain and increases neural activity in different regions in the brain. Despite this, not much is known about the compound’s effect on the auditory cortex, which processes auditory information such as speech sounds and acoustical signals, including music.

For their study, the researchers focused on how psilocybin affected the balance between stimulus-driven responses in the auditory cortex and intrinsic neural activity. This, they believe, may improve understanding of the broader effects of psilocybin on perception as well as its therapeutic potential.

They begun by using two-photon imaging to study the primary auditory cortex in mice. This technique allowed them to detect any changes in neuronal activity in real time. The researchers also exposed the mice to auditory stimuli at different frequencies and monitored the neural responses. In addition, they utilized a custom-made video tracking arena to understand psilocybin’s behavioral effects. They placed the mice in a well-lit acrylic box and recorded all movements at high frame rates.

Once this was done, the scientists analyzed the videos to measure the patterns of mouse movements and compared behavior prior to and after psilocybin had been administered. The researchers determined that after the psychedelic was administered, neurons in the auditory cortex showed increased responsiveness to sound stimuli. This increase was followed by a considerable drop in responsiveness roughly half an hour after the drug’s administration. This observation suggests that psilocybin has a biphasic effect on neural activity.

The researchers also observed that while neural responsiveness was altered, the frequency of how the neurons responded to different sound frequencies remained stable. This means that neurons’ ability to differentiate between tones doesn’t change, even when neurons become less or more active. Finally, the researchers discovered that the psychedelic heightened functional connectivity in the auditory cortex. This was demonstrated by higher correlations in patterns in neural activity between neuron pairs, which suggests increased communication in the neural network.

The research was authored by Nikolas A. Francis and Adam T. Brockett. They published their findings in the “Journal of Neurophysiology.

Given that many other entities such as Compass Pathways PLC (NASDAQ: CMPS) are also conducting their own R&D programs involving psilocybin and other hallucinogens, the mysteries behind these substances’ therapeutic potential are likely to be uncovered in due time.

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