"Anxiety Gene" linked to depression, makes the body out of tune

U.S. scientists in viewing the human body as a well-tuned orchestra, say that think they may have found a discordant note in the form of a gene which appears to increase the likelihood of some people developing anxiety and depression.

The scientists from the U.S. government's National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) say the gene variant weakens a circuit in the brain for processing negative emotions like anxiety and depression.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 114 healthy subjects were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). According to the team those subjects with at least one copy of the variant had less grey matter, neurons and their connections, in that particular circuit than those with two normal genetic copies of the gene variant.

Lead researcher Dr. Daniel Weinberger says how well this circuit was connected accounted for nearly 30 percent of the test subjects' anxious temperament, he says that the brain handles information very much like an orchestra, so the team posed such questions as are the various instruments 'playing the same tune' and to what extent did the gene influence it?

The NIMH researchers say they found that a fear processing hub deep in the brain and an emotion-dampening center located near the front of the brain, were "playing a duet under the baton of the depression-linked gene."

This pairing and genetic link, say the scientists may lead to a better understanding of how some people will respond to antidepressant medication.

The full report appears in the May 8 online issue of Nature Neuroscience.

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