Washington, May 13 (ANI): A new study from the University of Michigan has shed light on why some individuals may be predisposed to anxiety.
The research team has identified a brain chemical called fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) that plays an important role in brain development, and in anxiety.
Lead researcher Dr Javier Perez suggests that the new discovery can offer potential new treatment for anxiety disorders and depression.
In the study, researchers examined FGF2 levels in rats selectively bred for high or low anxiety for over 19 generations.
The researchers found lower FGF2 levels in rats bred for high anxiety compared to those bred for low anxiety.
The study also suggests that environmental enrichment reduces anxiety by altering FGF2.
Perez and colleagues found that giving the high-anxiety rats a series of new toys reduced anxiety behaviors and increased their levels of FGF2.
Furthermore, they found that FGF2 treatment alone reduced anxiety behaviours in the high-anxiety rats.
"We have discovered that FGF2 has two important new roles: it's a genetic vulnerability factor for anxiety and a mediator for how the environment affects different individuals," said Perez.
"This is surprising, as FGF2 and related molecules are known primarily for organizing the brain during development and repairing it after injury," he added.
The findings suggest that part of FGF2's role in reducing anxiety may be due to its ability to increase the survival of new cells in a brain region called the hippocampus.
Previous research has suggested that depression decreases the production and incorporation of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis.
Although the researchers found that high-anxiety rats produced the same number of new brain cells as low-anxiety rats, they found decreased survival of new brain cells in high-anxiety rats compared to low-anxiety rats.
However, FGF2 treatment and environmental enrichment each restored brain cell survival.
"This discovery may pave the way for new, more specific treatments for anxiety that will not be based on sedation - like currently prescribed drugs - but will instead fight the real cause of the disease," said Dr Pier Vincenzo Piazza, Director of the Neurocentre Magendie an INSERM/University of Bordeaux institution in France, an expert on the role of neurogenesis in addiction and anxiety who was not involved in the current study.
The study appears in The Journal of Neuroscience. (ANI)