When anxiety becomes an intrusive disorder in a one’s life, stress and panic can seem ever-present around the next corner. While different types of therapy and medication are designed to treat symptoms after they arise and cause problems, biological research into what actually causes stress on a neurological level has returned a finite amount of information, until now. A recent study has shed quite a bit of light on this field of knowledge.
In a collaboration between a UC Irvine assistant professor and colleagues at the University of Queensland and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, the group’s research pinpointed a major biological detail: a gene with a significant relationship to the body’s stress response and anxiety levels. Timothy W. Bredy, professor of neurobiology and behavior and affiliate of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, identifies the gene as “Gomafu.” Interestingly enough, Gomafu has made recent headlines before, previously being associated with schizophrenia. Before that initial discovery, the gene was originally thought to have no important function in the brain whatsoever, being labeled as noncoding RNA.
Previous to this study, research had only observe the human’s response to stress and anxiety, rooted in the nervous and endocrine systems, after it had made it had run it course. While not specified, the stress activity is only known to generate somewhere in the brain, travel through the spinal cord and pituitary gland in the form of a neurochemical response and eventually is released in the form of various physical symptoms and behaviors.
Contemporary anxiety research primarily explores the various, classified disorders that have been observed and diagnosed over time. Since the 1950s, research has shown a steady increase of anxiety and associated conditions in the United States. Before the term “anxiety disorder” was even coined, organizations like the Phobia Society of America, now the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), dedicated their research efforts to promote the prevention and treatment of anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD and related disorders and to improve the lives of all those who suffer from them through education, practice and research. While conducting research and providing treatment for disorders as they occur is still highly important, little headway has been made in identifying the biological precursors of anxiety.
In this recent observation of the entire human genome, researchers found that this noncoding RNA activity has actually been detected in the brain as a response to one’s own experiences. Specifically, Bredy and his colleagues also found that noncoding genes such as Gomafu show signs of representing a surveillance system that has evolved in the brain over time. This system can rapidly react to changes in one’s situation and surroundings, and a disruption of this network in the brain might contribute to the development of neuropsychiatric disorders.
In an interview with UC Irvine’s School of Biological Sciences, Bredy added, “Early biologists thought that DNA sequences that do not make protein were remnants of our evolutionary history, but the fact these sequences are actually highly dynamic and exert a profound influence on us.”
In its specific relation to anxiety, researchers found that symptoms suggestive of both anxiety disorders and schizophrenia arose when the Gomafu gene was deactivated in the brain. This is incredibly important information for the world of psychiatric and psychological research, especially due to its implications in the clinical realm as well.For example, most treatment for anxiety-related conditions advocate a dual diagnosis method which addresses any underlying or related conditions that could be aggravating the overall situation. It is important to address both of these problems at the same time, in order to best avoid relapse. In some cases, this underlying condition may be biological in nature.
As more information is accumulated regarding this discovery, the possibilities for more effective treatments may develop over time. If current research experimentation has demonstrated the ability to turn the gene on and off, then certain implications may also include pharmaceuticals that can inhibit or stimulate the needed response in individuals. Stressful situations that may have previously induced panic will be solved by a simple prescription coupled with existing relaxation techniques.
Although future possibilities resulting from the current research may have a huge effect on human experiences, this particular study is only a single step in the right direction. Continued focus on biological and chemical relationships over the next few years and decades will reveal what Gomafu can practically do for people. The scientists hope this finding will develop better treatment approaches in terms of anxiety and other disorders. The knowledge of these previously unknown connections and implications will eventually better equip practitioners with the ability to predict vulnerability and resilience of possible neuropsychiatric diseases.
For more information on current anxiety treatments, contact Anxiety Treatment Centers of California online or at 855-972-9459.