New research at Rutgers University may help shed light on how and why nervous system changes occur and what causes some people to suffer from life-threatening anxiety disorders while others are better able to cope.
Maureen Barr, a professor in the Department of Genetics, and a team of researchers, found that the architectural structure of the six sensory brain cells in the roundworm, responsible for receiving information, undergo major changes and become much more elaborate when the worm is put into an high stress environment.
Scientists have known for some time that changes in the tree-like dendrite structures that connect neurons in the human brain and enable our thought processes to work properly can occur under extreme stress, alter brain cell development and result in anxiety disorders like depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which affect millions of Americans each year. What scientists don't understand for sure, Barr says, is the cause behind these molecular changes in the brain.
"This type of research provides us necessary clues that ultimately could lead to the development of drugs to help those suffering with severe anxiety disorders," Barr says.
In the study published today in Current Biology, scientists at Rutgers have identified six sensory nerve cells in the tiny, transparent roundworm, known as the C. elegans and an enzyme called KPC-1/furin which triggers a chemical reaction in humans that is needed for essential life functions like blood-clotting.
While the enzyme also appears to play a role in the growth of tumors and the activation of several types of virus and diseases in humans, in the roundworm the enzyme enables its simple neurons to morph into new elaborately branched shapes when placed under adverse conditions.
Normally, this one-millimeter long worm develops from an embryo through four larval stages before molting into a reproductive adult. Put it under stressful conditions of overcrowding, starva
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