A gene in the brain driving anxiety symptoms has been identified by an international team of scientists. Critically, modification of the gene is shown to reduce anxiety levels, offering an exciting novel drug target for anxiety disorders.
The discovery, led by researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Exeter, is published online in Nature Communications. Anxiety disorders are common with one in four people diagnosed with a disorder at least once in their lifetime. The efficacy of currently available anti-anxiety drugs is low with more than half of patients not achieving remission following treatment.
To understand what is happening in the brain to cause anxiety, a UK-led team of researchers restrained mice for 6 hours to induce a stress response and then analyzed the rodents’ brains on a molecular level.
This led to the discovery of increased levels of five microRNAs (miRNAs) — small molecules that help determine which genes in a cell are expressed and which aren’t — in the amygdala, the brain region implicated in anxiety.
“miRNAs are strategically poised to control complex neuropsychiatric conditions such as anxiety,” said co-lead author Valentina Mosienko. “But the molecular and cellular mechanisms they use to regulate stress resilience and susceptibility were until now, largely unknown.”
When further research validates the finding in human brains, the discovery of this anxiety gene could serve as a blueprint for treatments to help people with anxiety disorders.