Tickling Rats Reveals a Brain Region Linked to Laughter and Play

Exploring the Neurological Roots of Joy in Rats

Turns out, rats aren’t all serious and scurrying around – they enjoy a good playtime too. Recent research has cracked the code behind these furry creatures’ playful behavior, locating the brain region responsible for their joy. This discovery might not just shed light on the antics of rodents but also offer insights into human emotions like anxiety.

Playful Rats and Brain Activity

Play, a behavior that’s often overlooked in scientific studies, has more importance than we might think. It likely aids in the growth of mammalian brains and contributes to emotional and social development. Think about kids engaged in playful wrestling; they stop when the laughter stops. To untangle the neural wiring behind play and laughter, scientists implanted tiny electrodes into rat brains. As rat laughter isn’t audible to us, ultrasonic microphones were used to capture their sounds. Rats were introduced to various playful activities, including tickling and chasing the researcher’s hands, both solo and with a partner.

Mapping Playfulness in Rat Brains

Mapping Playfulness in Rat Brains

By monitoring brain activity during these interactions, scientists pinpointed a brain area called the periaqueductal gray (PAG) that consistently lit up. Intriguingly, when rats faced anxiety-inducing situations, PAG activity dropped, even during tickling. Confirming PAG’s role, researchers disrupted PAG neurons chemically, leading to rats losing interest in play and tickling.

Beyond Rats

The implications go beyond rats. Given that humans have sizable PAG regions in their brains, it’s tempting to wonder if this area performs a similar function in us. The possibilities are thrilling; comprehending the significance of play might offer novel avenues for understanding and treating mood disorders. This exploration into the positive side of emotions, an area often overshadowed by the focus on negatives, represents a step forward in neuroscience. The study’s co-author Michael Brecht said that there’s relatively little research on positive emotions. With rats showing us the way, the captivating realm of play and its impact on mental well-being is just beginning to unravel.

A Rare Parasitic Fungus Is Barely Hanging On In Australia

A rare fungus that looks a lot like decaying human fingers is endangered but still hanging on to life in Australia. Its zombie-like digits can also be seen wrapped around fallen trees on an island near the southern coast of the continent.

The Endangered Parasitic Fungus Is Known as Hypocreopsis Amplectens

Hypocreopsis Amplectens The zombie fingers fungus is known as tea-tree fingers, and its shape resembles pudgy human fingers clinging to the wood. The pinkish-brown texture and color of the fungus make the fingers look dead, and that is why it’s called zombie’s fingers.

Tea-tree fingers are very rare and can be found in just a handful of locations in southeastern Australia and within the mainland of Victoria. Recently, an expedition led by naturalists from Australia’s Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria proved that the fungus is found in at least two other places.

The Fungus’ Fleshy Appearance Evolved to Help It Survive

According to Michael Amor, a fellow at RBGV, while the fungus’ appearance may be ghastly to humans, its strange shape has helped it survive. Amor is also the leader of the expedition that found the fungus in new places around the continent. He said in an interview that because it is found on dead, disconnected branches, its form helps it be flexible and allows it to grow over curves and crevices. This allows the fungus to cope with cracking, bending, and falling.

Hypocreopsis Amplectens

The zombie fingers fungus is a parasite that grows on other fungus hosts that decay wood. Many moth larvae and insects like to snack on the fungus, and that makes it a part of the complex local ecosystems.

One team of volunteers and researchers have also reported finding tea-tree fingers in locations at a national park on French Island, Victoria. One of the spots holds the largest population of tea-tree fingers, where over a hundred individual fruiting bodies can be found. This is more than the total population at all the sites on the mainland.