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Brain protein may be a more direct target for treating anxiety
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Michael Irving – New Atlas

December 27, 2018

Evolutionarily speaking, anxiety is an important mental state – but not so much when it gets out of hand, preventing you from leaving the house. Current anti-anxiety medication comes with some negative side effects, but researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine have now identified a protein in the brain that may be the key to new, more targeted treatments.

The brain is an incredibly complex organ, so there's no single cause of anxiety, but the amygdala is believed to be one of the big players. As the part of the brain that processes feelings of fear and anxiety, overactivity of the amygdala has been linked to anxiety disorders.

Some existing anti-anxiety medications, like benzodiazepines, target the amygdala. Specifically, they do so by boosting inhibitory synapses that, as their name suggests, reduce the activity of nearby neurons. In this case, that includes fear- or anxiety-related neurons that may be firing too readily, so the drugs help calm them down.

Unfortunately, the medications don't discriminate and will affect many other inhibitory neurons as well, leading to side effects like sleepiness and reduced concentration. Developing new medications that are more targeted is a key priority.

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