NEW YORK (Jan. 14, 2010) -- Studying animals in behavioral experiments has been a cornerstone of psychological research, but whether the observations are relevant for human behavior has been unclear. Weill Cornell Medical College researchers have identified an alteration to the DNA of a gene that imparts similar anxiety-related behavior in both humans and mice, demonstrating that laboratory animals can be accurately used to study these human behaviors.
The findings may help researchers develop new clinical strategies to treat humans with anxiety disorders, such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Results from the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, are published today in the journal Science.
"We found that humans and mice who had the same human genetic alteration also had greater difficulty in extinguishing an anxious-like response to adverse stimuli," explains Dr. B.J. Casey, co-senior author of the study and professor of psychology in psychiatry from The Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
The researchers observed common behavioral responses between humans and mice that possess an alteration in the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene. The mice were genetically altered -- meaning that they had a human genetic variation inserted within their genome.
To make their comparison, the researchers paired a harmless stimulus with an aversive one, which elicits an anxious-like response, known as conditioned fear. Following fear learning, exposure to numerous presentations of the harmless stimulus alone, in the absence of the aversive stimulus, normally leads to subjects extinguishing this fear response. That is, a subject should eventually stop having an anxious response towards the harmless stimulus.
"But both the mice and humans found to have the alternation in the BDNF gene took significantly longer to 'get over
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New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center/Weill Cornell Medical College