Brain Scans Indicate Anxiety, Depression May Be Hereditary

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Parents who have suffered from anxiety and depression are likely to pass on those two disorders to their children, based on a study of brain scans in monkeys, giving weight to the idea that anxiety and depression are inherited.

Ned Kalin, MD, chair of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, and colleagues examined 600 rhesus monkeys, all from a large, multi-generational family. Young monkeys were exposed to a somewhat threatening situation that a human child will experience, facing a stranger who does not make eye contact with them.

During these encounters, PET scans were taken to determine areas of the brain that had increased activity as a way of predicting anxiety. The researchers found that increased activity was seen in some of the primates in the prefrontal-limbic-midbrain circuit, which is a part of the brain that impacts the in-born risk for anxiety and anxious behaviors, they reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers also determined that about 35% of variation in anxiety-like tendencies can be explained by family history.

In addition, they found that the brain systems responsible for the parent-to-child transmission of anxiety-related behavior were all survival-related regions: the amygdala, the limbic brain fear center and the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in high-level reasoning and is only found in humans and some primates.

"Overactivity of these three brain regions are inherited brain alterations that are directly linked to the later life risk to develop anxiety and depression," Kalin said in a statement.

Brain Marker Can Help Predict Anxiety, Depression in Advance
Overactivity in three regions of the brain are inherited by children from their parents, possibly upping the risk of anxiety and depression.

An analysis of several brain scans of monkeys showed that parents suffering from anxiety and depression are likely to pass those feelings to their children. The study provides evidence that anxiety and depression are hereditary.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison observed 600 rhesus monkeys that came from an extended family. They exposed the young monkeys to a situation and used brain imaging to identify which region of the brain is affected by depression and anxiety.

The subjects were exposed to a stranger with no eye contact. During the process, the researchers observed increased activity in the prefrontal-limbic-midbrain circuit of the brain. These areas control the in-born risk for anxiety that can be observed in early childhood.

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