WEDNESDAY, Nov. 16, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists who identified a gene linked to separation anxiety say their finding could lead to more targeted treatments for anxiety disorders.
The researchers assessed separation anxiety in children with two rare genetic disorders called 7q11.23 duplication syndrome (Dup7q11.23) and Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS).
Dup7q11.23 is a developmental disorder characterized by social anxiety and specific phobias. It's caused by extra copies of 26 genes on chromosome seven, including the GTF2I gene. Children with Williams-Beuren syndrome, which is caused by a deletion of 7q11.23, have cognitive deficits but are highly social and don't have social anxieties. GTF2I is typically one of the genes deleted in children with Williams-Beuren syndrome.
The researchers found that 26 percent of the children with Dup7q11.23 had separation anxiety, compared with less than 5 percent of children with Williams-Beuren syndrome and those in the general population.
To further investigate the link between GTF2I and separation anxiety, the researchers bred mice with either additional or missing copies of the gene. When separated from their mothers, mouse pups with extra copies of the gene vocalized more than normal, while pups with fewer copies of the gene did not.
The study was presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.
"Our research provides evidence of the first gene to cause separation anxiety," senior author Lucy Osborne, of the University of Toronto, said in a society news release. "These findings may lead to the development of more targeted therapies for anxiety disorders."
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The Nemours Foundation has more about separation anxiety.