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Israelis find biochemical pathway underlying anxiety

Painting entitled Anxiety, 1894, by Edvard Munch

‘If we understand exactly how the circuitry that we’ve discovered controls anxiety, this may help develop new drugs to alleviate its symptoms.’

Israeli researchers recently made a discovery that could help develop new therapies for anxiety disorders. With up to one in three people around the world at the risk of experiencing severe anxiety, this is big news. At the heart of the discovery, published in Cell Reports, is a previously unknown biochemical pathway underlying anxiety.

Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science biomolecular sciences department studied the role of proteins called importins in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Importins are found in all cells. Their job is to shuttle molecules into the nucleus.

Postdoctoral fellow Nicolas Panayotis and his colleagues studied five lines of mice genetically engineered to lack genes from the alpha sub-family of importins. They subjected the mice to a series of behavioral tests and found that one line of mice – those lacking importin alpha-5 – showed no anxiety in stressful situations.

The researchers then examined how the “calmer” mice differed from regular ones in terms of gene expression in brain regions involved in controlling anxiety. Computational analyses pointed to MeCP2, a regulatory gene known to affect anxiety behaviors. The researchers discovered that importin alpha-5 was critical for enabling the entry of MeCP2 into the nuclei of neurons.

Changes in the levels of MeCP2 in the nucleus, in turn, affected the levels of an enzyme involved in the production of a signaling molecule called S1P. In mice lacking importin alpha-5, MeCP2 failed to enter the nuclei of anxiety-controlling neurons, reducing S1P signaling and lowering anxiety...

This article has been republished with permission by www.ISRAEL21c.org. Click here to continue reading.


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