Scientists have identified a gene that controls anxiety, and the findings may help doctors develop drugs that treat the condition.
The research team, led by researchers at Imperial College London, reported in the journal Science that they had identified a “major” gene that plays a key role in controlling anxiety in mice.
The researchers say this gene, named TNF-alpha, can be passed from parent to child.
This gene was first identified in a person, but was unknown until now, said lead researcher Dr. Sarah Kwan of the University of California, Davis, in a statement.TNF-α is found in all human cells and can cause chronic inflammation, inflammation that can lead to immune disorders, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Treatment with an anti-inflammatory drug called rimonabant, which blocks the TNF enzyme, can help treat the symptoms of anxiety, but it is often not effective.
Dr. David L. Shanks, a psychiatrist at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands who was not involved in the research, said that this finding is important because it could offer a new approach to treating anxiety.
“It’s possible that the genetic makeup of this gene can be a genetic predisposition to the development of anxiety,” Dr. Shank said.
Dr Kwan said she had been looking for ways to study TNF and anxiety for years, but this study provides new data that could help scientists identify the genes that cause the condition in humans.
“We now know that there are several genes involved in TNF, and we know that we can identify which ones have particular activity and how those genes interact with other genes, so we can develop treatments to counteract the effects of TNF,” Dr Kwan added.
Dr L.J. Stacey, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was not part of the study but said it was important to look at the genes in mice that control anxiety, which may lead to drugs to treat the disorder.
“This is really exciting because we now know something about what genes are involved in these different kinds of anxiety disorders, and it’s really important that we continue to look into these things,” Dr Stacey said.
This story has been updated.