In addition to the observational testing, the researchers also performed brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), on the human participants, to see if brain function differed between people with the abnormal BDNF gene and those with normal BDNF genes.
They found that a circuit in the brain involving the frontal cortex and amygdala -- responsible for learning about cues that signal safety and danger -- was altered in people with the abnormality, when compared with control participants who did not have the abnormality.
"Testing for this gene may one day help doctors make more informed decisions for treatment of anxiety disorders," explains Dr. Francis S. Lee, co-senior author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Therapists use exposure therapy -- a type of behavior therapy in which the patient confronts a feared situation, object, thought, or memory -- to treat individuals who experience stress and anxiety due to certain situations. Sometimes, exposure therapy involves reliving a traumatic experience in a controlled, therapeutic environment and is based on principles of extinction learning. The goal is to reduce the distress, physical or emotional, felt in situations that trigger negative emotion. Exposure therapy is often used for the treatment of anxiety, phobias and PTSD.
"Exposure therapy may still work for patients with this gene abnormality, but a positive test for the BDNF genetic variant may let doctors know that exposure therapy may take longer, and that the use of newer drugs may be necessary to accelerate extinction learning," explains Dr. Soliman.
|Contact: Andrew Klein|
New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center/Weill Cornell Medical College