Brain chemistry linked source stress disorders
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Brain chemistry linked to source of stress disorders

11:49 AM, 30th June 2011
Brain chemistry linked to source of stress disorders

LEICESTER, UNITED KINGDOM: An innovative Medical Research Council funded study has revealed new targeted treatment opportunities for stress-related mental health disorders.

A team of neuroscientists at the University of Leicester, including the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit at the university, have announced a breakthrough in the understanding of how our brain responds to highly stressful and traumatic events. The findings, which were made in collaboration with researchers from Poland and Japan, have been published in the journal Nature.

“We used genetic, molecular, electrophysiological and behavioural approaches to investigate the molecular basis of anxiety and how stress-related environmental signals are translated into proper behavioural responses. This resulted in the discovery of a critical, previously unknown pathway mediating anxiety in response to stress,” informed Dr Robert Pawlak, University of Leicester, who led the UK team.

The study revealed that the emotional centre of the brain - the amygdala - reacts to stress by increasing production of a specific protein called neuropsin. This triggers a series of chemical reactions which cause the amygdala to increase its activity. As a consequence, a gene is turned on that determines the stress response at a cellular level.

“We examined the behavioural consequences of the series of cellular events caused by stress in the amygdala. Studies in mice revealed that when the proteins produced by the amygdala were blocked - either pharmacologically or by gene therapy - the mice did not exhibit the behavioural consequences of stress. We conclude that the activity of neuropsin and its partners may determine vulnerability to stress. Furthermore, we know that all members of the neuropsin pathway are present in the human brain,” continued Dr Pawlak.

“These are very exciting findings which open up new possibilities for the prevention and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders. This research is an example of the important work undertaken in mental health to identify new treatment targets. This is a key area, as these disorders have significant effects on the lives of sufferers and also the wider population,” said Professor Chris Kennard, Chairman, Medical Research Council's Neuroscience and Mental Health Board which funded the research.

The research was also funded by the European Union and Medisearch - the Leicestershire Medical Research Foundation. The paper ‘Neuropsin cleaves EphB2 in the amygdala to control anxiety’ by Attwood, Bourgognon, Patel, Mucha, Schiavon, Skrzypiec, Young, Shiosaka, Korostynski, Piechota, Przewlocki and Pawlak is published in Nature.

(C) Medisearch, Medical Research Council, University of Leicester




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