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Health

Scientists have just discovered the ‘anxiety gene’ and what turns it off

This could completely change how we treat anxiety and depression.

anxiety, anxiety gene, anxiety on rise

A young woman struggles with anxiety.

Living with an anxiety disorder can feel like a constant battle against an invisible enemy. People with anxiety disorders feel constant, excessive worry, restlessness and irrational fears, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing.

These overwhelming feelings cast a shadow over daily life and make it difficult to focus or enjoy simple pleasures. Anxiety disorders can also feel isolating, as the sufferer may struggle to communicate their feelings, making it hard to receive support and understanding.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common forms of mental illness and studies show that an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Around half of all people who suffer from anxiety disorders go into remission at some point.


The interesting thing about such a common mental health problem is that the cause of anxiety disorders is currently unknown. But they’re believed to stem from a combination of factors that are developmental, psychological, environmental and genetic in nature.

However, all of that may soon change. Researchers at the University of Bristol have identified a gene responsible for driving anxiety symptoms in mice and learned how it can be suppressed. The research was first published in Nature Communications.

To gain deeper insight into the underlying causes of anxiety, scientists restrained the mice for 6 hours to elicit a stress response and then examined their brains at a molecular level.

The researchers realized that the stress response resulted in elevated levels of 5 microRNAs (miRNAs) in the amygdala, determining which genes in a cell are expressed and which are not. The amygdala is the brain's integrative center for motivation, emotions and emotional behavior.

Most importantly, the researchers noted that the gene Pgap2 caused behavior associated with anxiety and miR483-5p worked as a molecular “brake” to prevent the feelings of anxiety.

To put it simply, researchers have determined the gene that creates anxiety symptoms and the gene that puts a stop to them. This revelation could lead to new medications that target and suppress the specific cause of anxiety in the human brain. It may also completely change the current trial-and-error approach that doctors use to treat anxiety through medications.

“miRNAs are strategically poised to control complex neuropsychiatric conditions such as anxiety. But the molecular and cellular mechanisms they use to regulate stress resilience and susceptibility were until now, largely unknown,” Dr. Valentina Mosienko, one of the study’s lead authors said, according to Neuroscience News.

“The miR483-5p/Pgap2 pathway we identified in this study, activation of which exerts anxiety-reducing effects, offers a huge potential for the development of anti-anxiety therapies for complex psychiatric conditions in humans.”

The findings are exciting to many people who wouldn't mind having their anxiety gene turned off right about now.

The next step for researchers is to see if further research can be validated in humans.

This important development comes at a time when anxiety and depression are on the rise across the globe. According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% rise in anxiety and depression worldwide.

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