Using mice specially bred to lack certain cellular transport proteins, a team of Israeli scientists has discovered a new molecular pathway involved in anxiety.
The new work, described in the journal Cell Reports, provides sorely needed insight into biochemical mechanisms that lead to the behavioral symptoms of anxiety and could potentially lead to novel treatments. According to the World Health Organization, more than 260 million people currently suffer from anxiety disorders, and one in three will likely experience some form of this condition during their lifetime.
"Current drugs for anxiety are limited in their efficacy or have undesirable side effects, which also limit their usefulness,” lead author Mike Fainzilber said in a statement. “Our findings may help overcome these limitations. In follow-up research, we have already identified a number of drug candidates that target the newly discovered pathway."
Fainzilber and his colleagues have spent the last several decades investigating the functions of importins, a family of molecules that transport proteins involved in gene expression and DNA regulation from the cytoplasm into the nucleus. All eukaryotic cells use importins, and their key roles in numerous physiological processes have been studied in great detail. Given that behavior patterns likely emerge from neurotransmitter signaling that causes changes in neuron gene transcription, and that said alterations to gene transcription can only occur when messages received at cell synapses are transmitted to the nucleus, it was a safe bet to assume that importins are also part of the anxiety pathway. However, according to the team no one has taken the time to look into it. Until now.