The Chemistry of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders such as panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder often involve an imbalance of brain chemicals, which often is corrected with precise dosages of medication.

Marlene Wilson, Ph.D., is exploring another approach that could be used to treat anxiety or depression, which sometimes won't respond to medication.

My lab is using selected virus vectors that target certain cell types in the brain," she said. We were one of the first groups to use gene therapy approaches to look at how specific proteins affect anxiety and identified brain circuits that are responsible for stress disorders. We think receptors in the brain's endogenous opioid system play a role in disorders such as social phobias and generalized anxiety."

Studies also suggest that people and animals with high levels of a brain protein called neuropeptide Y can cope better with stress, appearing less anxious and more resilient to traumatic events.

We're interested not only in the role of this peptide in anxiety disorders but also in knowing its relationship to alcohol effects because there appears to be a strong relationship between anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse," Wilson said.

Current Neuroscience Research: