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Florida scientists decode chemistry of fear: Predator-secreted lipids prompt defense mechanism

Posted on 03-22-2018 Posted in Anxiety, Mental Health, Treatment - 0 Comments

Predator-secreted lipids prompt defense mechanism

Fear exists, so does anxiety. Though medicines are prescribed commonly to deal with these problems when they start interfering with daily activities, they often fail to provide the desired results. In the quest for new clues on the mechanism that drives fear and anxiety and to develop effective new drugs for treating conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder, a team of researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, California has uncovered a fundamental fear-like response that is parallel to human anxiety in a tiny nematode worm.

For the study, the researchers started with a nematode worm called Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) and its natural hunter Pristionchus pacificus (P. pacificus). P. pacificus bites and kills C. elegans. To elicit a fear-based response, the scientists exposed C. elegans to chemicals excreted by P. pacificus — a new class of lipids called sulfolipids. As a result, C. elegans rapidly reversed its direction and moved away. C. elegans continued to change its behavior even post the removal of the fear-inducing chemical. According to the researchers, in case of C. elegans, the fear-triggering chemical from P. pacificus activates four redundant brain circuits that led to the behavior exhibited by C. elegans.

The researchers also observed that when C. elegans were soaked for 30 minutes in a solution containing sulfolipids, they failed to lay eggs, even after an hour post their removal from the solution, further displaying the predator cue-induced stress that affected the worms’ egg-laying behavior. However, when the worms were soaked in a solution containing Zoloft, an anti-anxiety medicine, they didn’t exhibit any fear and anxiety-like responses. The researchers also observed that the anti-anxiety medication acted on the worms’ gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) signaling in a neuron that affected the animal’s sleep.

According to study author Sreekanth Chalasani, an associate professor at the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, Salk Institute, the study findings suggested that fear and anxiety are primeval and evolved much earlier than originally thought. He added that as the research allowed the scientists to study nerves, circuits, genes and pathways in worms, it should also help the scientists understand the process in humans. As per him, the idea behind the study was to identify the underlying signals in the brain related to fear and anxiety and develop better drugs to block these.

Anxiety normal but unpleasant

Defined as a reaction to stressful or dangerous situations, anxiety is a normal but unpleasant part of life. Although occasional anxiety is perfectly normal, when it does not go away or gets worse over time, it can result in an anxiety disorder and can interfere with daily life activities such as school life, job performance as well as relationships. Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 40 million or 18.1 percent of the adult population in the U.S. When left untreated, it can be overwhelming and restricting for the sufferer and those around.

Given the variations that exist in the duration of the illness, its triggering factors and other such defining behaviors, a comprehensive anxiety disorder treatment may comprise psychotherapy, medication or both.

Treatment for anxiety disorders

A leading mental health care facility, Sovereign Health of Florida provides top-notch treatment for a host of mental health issues, including anxiety disorders and depression at both its facilities based out of Pompano Beach and Ft. Myers. For more information on our evidence-based treatment programs and residential treatment for anxiety disorders call at our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our representative.

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