Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: The Superior Colliculus (“What?!”)

I guess when it comes to the anatomy and physiology of mood and anxiety I’m kind of a geek. The stuff just fascinates me. What can I say? However, beyond the pure wonder of it all, a good portion of my interest is grounded in really wanting to comprehend that from which I’ve suffered most of my life. I mean, I just don’t see how one can own and manage something if they don’t understand what’s going on.

The superior colliculus (SC) is a component of the very ancient midbrain (mesencephalon), which is the smallest portion of the brain and serves as kind of a booster station for visual and auditory information. It’s a paired structure, meaning it presents in both lobes. Colliculus comes from the Latin for “higher hill.” You may see it referred to as the tectum, which comes from the Latin for “roof.”

Of note is its layered structure. It’s kind of cool, in that the functioning of the SC changes as one descends down its layers. The surface layers are more sensory-related, receiving input from the eyes and other sensory systems. And the deeper layers are motor-related. The layers in between have both sensory and motor responsibilities.

Funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, a research team from Georgetown University Medical Center have discovered that activation of the deep layers of superior colliculus (DLSC) plays an important role in the regulation of our emotional response to threatening situations. This region appears to work in conjunction with, you guessed it, the amygdala; to help us regulate social and emotional behavior.

And what do you know, the DLSC generates defensive behaviors such as an exaggerated startle response, hypervigilance, cowering, and escape. Familiar with any of those? Well, the researchers suggest it’s at least possible that ongoing activation of the DLSC/amygdala combo could lead to assorted emotional disorders. Not that we don’t already know that, right?

Here are a couple of quotes from research assistant, Ashley Decker…

“These results suggest that the amygdala and DLSC interact to modulate emotional and social behaviors, either directly, or indirectly by converging on a common target in the brain.”

“The understanding of the functional interaction between these two brain structures is expected to reveal novel targets for therapeutic intervention for post traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.”

Again, I find the physiology and anatomy of mood and anxiety fascinating. However, if you don’t share my “geekness,” at least take away two things from this post. First of all, it’s hope-generating and empowering to understand what causes our misery. Secondly, piggy-backing on what Ms. Decker says in her second statement, coming to understand the marvels of the mind and brain, and pursuing them, can’t help but bring efficacious treatments. What’s not to like?

Thoughts on Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday? Would sure like to have your comments!