Scientists may have found a potential treatment for anxiety after isolating and strengthening a molecule in the brain of rhesus monkeys.
Andrew Fox, UC Davis researcher and SUNY co-author Tade Souaiaia are leading a team of researchers in an experimental study to determine whether anxiety and depression-related behaviors could be mitigated by manipulating anxiety and depression. amygdala, the part of the brain that controls memory and emotions related to memory.
In order to land on a specific molecule – in this case the neurotrophin-3 – the team used the sequencing of RNA, the manipulation of viral-vector genes, the functional imaging of the brain and behavioral phenotyping to proceed with the reverse engineering of the primate brain. What they found has confirmed previous research indicating that the brains of young monkeys who presented what the researchers described as "anxious temperament" presented alterations to the neuro-typical monkeys.
To determine which monkeys displayed behaviors associated with an anxious temperament, they conducted an experiment described in the research paper:
Forty-six non-human primates were assessed longitudinally for behavioral inhibition, cortisol, and brain metabolism during a 30-minute exposure to a potentially dangerous human visual contact with the monkey. The NEC context induces behavioral inhibition, which is an important risk factor for the development of stress-related psychopathology. During the NEC, we measured behavior inhibition (freezing and vocal reduction).
Once they had discovered which monkeys had an anxious temper, it was enough for them to stimulate the neutrophin-3 molecule in their brain by gene therapy. This was accomplished by injecting into the amygdalas of the monkeys a modified virus that targeted the neutrophin-3 molecule and triggered activation by essentially causing it to overexpress itself. The hypothesis was that the ignition of the molecule would somehow eliminate the changes brought by the machinations of the anxiety temperament.
According to the research report of the team, it was a success. The researchers wrote that the monkeys who received the treatment had a "significant reduction" in anxiety temperament, which was not bad for single-molecule manipulation. Plus, the researchers think that there could be a lot of similar molecules in the brain that could work the same way. Fox said Xpress Medical:
We are just beginning. Neurotrophin-3 is the first molecule that we have been able to show in a nonhuman primate to be causally linked to anxiety. This is one of the many molecules that can have this effect. There could be hundreds or even thousands of others.
This breakthrough has astonishing implications for the study of mental health and psychopathology. Millions of people around the world suffer from anxiety and depression. Targeted gene therapy, capable of mitigating these behaviors, could be the first general "cure" for these conditions. Scientists are still sequencing primate RNA and it will be important to study the long-term effects of stimulation of molecules in the amygdala – it may take a long time before human trials be realized.
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