Anxiety May Result From Deficit of 'Off Switch' Neurotransmitter

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People that suffer from persistent anxiety might do so because they may have a shortage of a neurotransmitter that acts as an “off switch” for anxiety in the brain.

Patrick Roseboom, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and colleagues studied 24 young monkeys to examine expression of the neuropeptide Y system in relationship to anxious temperament. The system helps to regulate the body’s reaction to stress.

Heightened anxious temperament is associated with decreased messenger RNA expression of two neuropeptide Y receptors, Y1R and Y5R, in the central nucleus of the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with regulating fear and anxiety, the researchers wrote in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“Identifying the molecular underpinnings of why some individuals are at-risk for developing anxiety and depression has the potential to identify new treatment targets,” Roseboom said in a statement. “The current findings suggest that focusing on a system that provides resilience may be an important strategy at the molecular level.”

The researchers conclude that finding ways of enhancing neuropeptide Y could help to treat anxiety.

“This finding is very important as it focuses our thinking about treatment on promoting recovery after stress rather than suppressing the normal adaptive reaction to threatening situations,” John Krystal, MD, the editor of Biological Psychiatry, added in a statement. “This new finding points us in the direction of new treatments that aim to promote resilience rather than blunting one's life experiences.”

Anxiety May Result From Deficit of 'Off Switch' Neurotransmitter
Anxiety May Result From Deficit of 'Off Switch' Neurotransmitter

Persistent anxiety is one of the most common and distressing symptoms compromising mental health. Most of the research on the neurobiology of anxiety has focused on the generation of increased anxiety, i.e., the processes that "turn on" anxiety.

But what if the problem lay with the "off switch" instead? In other words, the dysfunction could exist in the ability to diminish anxiety once it has begun.

A new report in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison suggests that deficits in one of the brain's off switches for anxiety, neuropeptide Y receptors, are decreased in association with anxious temperament.

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