Berlin: People experiencing anxiety disorders, we have got some bad news for you. According to a recent study, mental, social and inherited factors all play a role in anxiety disorders. The journal was published in journal Molecular Psychiatry.
A research team from Julius-Maximilians-Universitat Wrzburg (JMU) describes a hitherto unknown genetic pathway for developing such diseases. They pinpointed at least four variants of the GLRB gene (glycine receptor B) as risk factors for anxiety and panic disorders.
In Germany, around 15 percent of adults suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. Some people may have an extreme fear of spiders or other objects while others have breathing difficulties and accelerated heart beat in small rooms or large gatherings of people.
Scientists from Mnster, Hamburg and Wrzburg have looked into questions like, how are fear and anxiety triggered and how do anxiety disorders arise and evolve, within the scope of Collaborative Research Center (CRC) TR 58 funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
Their goal is to develop new therapies that are better tailored to the individual patients. Anxiety disorders can be treated with drugs and behaviour therapy for instance.
The discovery sees that different variants of the GLRB gene are associated with anxiety disorders and might also contribute to the development of improved therapies.
"Some mutations of the gene cause a rare neurological disorder called hyperekplexia. The patients are permanently hypertonic and show pronounced startle responses, which may even cause sufferers to fall involuntarily. Similar to persons suffering from anxiety disorders, these patients develop behaviour to avoid potentially frightening situations," explains Professor Jrgen Deckert, member of the CRC and Director of the Department of Psychiatry at the JMU University Hospital.
But the GLRB gene variants that have recently been associated with anxiety and panic disorders for the first time are different from the ones described above. They occur more frequently and presumably entail less severe consequences. But they, too, trigger overshooting startle responses, and as a result may excessively activate the brain's "fear network".
"The results point to a hitherto unknown pathway of developing an anxiety disorder," Deckert says.
He believes that further investigations are now necessary to determine whether these findings can be harnessed to develop new or individual therapies.