The evolution of genetic research has allowed scientists to explore and identify genes involved in particular types of behavior, such as fear. A new genetic association study used a mouse model to evaluate genes that may be associated with the risk for human anxiety disorders.
The scientists utilized a cross-species approach and tested 13 human homologs of genes that had previously shown to be differentially expressed in mouse strains that differed in their innate anxiety levels.
The authors then studied groups of humans with anxiety disorders and found some evidence of association among six of these genes and particular anxiety disorders. The strongest associations were between variation in ALAD with risk for social phobia, DYNLL2 with risk for generalized anxiety disorder, and PSAP with risk for panic disorder.
“This intriguing study by Donner and colleagues harnesses the power of the animal models to guide the search for genes that contribute to the risk for human anxiety disorders. This process led to a number of interesting candidates for future study,” said John H. Krystal, M.D., from Yale University and Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
Corresponding author Iiris Hovatta, Ph.D., further explains, “We found gene variants that seem to specifically predispose to certain anxiety disorder types, such as panic disorder, social phobia or generalized anxiety disorder. These findings give us an excellent starting point to investigate their molecular function in the brain and how the proteins coded by these genes regulate anxiety.”
These findings still need to be replicated, and further research will be necessary to understand the extent that these specific genetic variants play in predisposing one to developing an anxiety disorder.
However, as the authors conclude in their article, “Nevertheless, our results illustrate the potential utility of cross-species approaches in the identification of susceptibility genes for human psychiatric disorders.”
The study appears in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.