Study Gives Hope for Anxiety in Children

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In the largest primate study, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have successfully identified brain regions that are overactive in the most anxious monkeys. This gives researchers hope for anxiety in children.

By identifying which brain regions have an inherited component that contributes to disease development, the researchers can start to look for genes that are active specifically in that region.
Andrew Fox, a graduate student in psychology at UW-Madison and co-lead author of the study said, "The idea is that we have tons of different genes expressed in our bodies, and if we look at everything going on everywhere we don't know where to start.”

The study was performed by researchers who injected monkeys with a radioactive variant of a sugar glucose then challenged the animals in an "intruder" test designed to mimic a stranger approaching a child in a non-threatening way then accessed how they responded.

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Researchers then took images of their brains and found that the more anxious behavior the monkey displayed, the more active its amygdala and hippocampus were. "If you ask most neuroscientists what area of the brain would be critical in anxious temperament and emotion, most would say the amygdala," said Jonathan Oler, an associate scientist at the Health Emotions Research Institute at UW-Madison and co-lead author of the study.

"But the data is the data, and the hippocampus and the amygdala predicted anxiety in the monkey equally," Oler said. "What was different between them was the heritability component."

"The exciting part was that the hippocampus was the region that was most affected by genes," said Ned Kalin, chairman of psychiatry at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and senior author of the study.

"We're really excited about the findings because we think that they have the potential to have a direct impact on how we understand these illnesses in children and hopefully we can come up with better ways to treat kids based on this information," Ned Kalin, who led the study.

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