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UW researchers discover the brain origins of variation in pathological anxiety
Date:3/25/2013

tivity was quantified in the monkeys using positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, a method that is also used in humans.

Combining behavioral measures of shyness, physiological measures of the stress-hormone cortisol, and brain metabolic imaging, co-lead authors Dr. Alexander Shackman, Andrew Fox, and their collaborators showed that a core neural system marked by elevated activity in the central nucleus of the amygdala was a consistent brain signature shared by young monkeys with chronically high levels of anxiety. This was true despite striking differences across monkeys in the predominance of particular anxiety-related symptoms.

The Wisconsin researchers also showed that young monkeys with particular anxiety profiles, such as high levels of shyness, showed changes in symptom-specific brain circuits. Finally, Shackman, Fox, and colleagues uncovered evidence that the two kinds of brain circuits, one shared by all anxious individuals, the other specific to those with particular symptoms, work together to produce different presentations of pathological anxiety.

The new study builds upon earlier work by the Kalin laboratory demonstrating that activity in the amygdala is strongly shaped by early-life experiences, such as parenting and social interactions. They hypothesize that extreme anxiety stems from problems with the normal maturation of brain systems involved in emotional learning, which suggests that anxious children have difficulty learning to effectively regulate brain anxiety circuits. Taken together, this line of research sets the stage for improved strategies for preventing extreme childhood anxiety from blossoming into full-blown anxiety disorders.

"This means the amygdala is an extremely attractive target for new, broad-spectrum anxiety treatments,'' says Shackman. "The central nucleus of the amygdala is a uniquely malleable substrate for anxiety, one that can help to trigger a wide range of symptoms."

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Contact: Susan Lampert Smith
ssmith5@uwhealth.org
608-890-5643
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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