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Study Finds New Seat of Anxiety in Brain

Discovery may lead to development of better drugs

THURSDAY, Oct. 10, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- American researchers have identified a new target area in the brain for anti-anxiety drugs.

They report their findings in the October issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The discovery may lead to new kinds of non-addictive anti-anxiety drugs with fewer side effects.

Mice missing an enzyme called protein kinase Ce (PKCe) had significantly lower anxiety and stress compared to normal mice, the study says.

The researchers believe this finding can be applied to humans and help in creating better drugs to treat anxiety disorders.

"To conduct this study, we used a strain of mouse that lacks an enzyme called protein kinase Ce (PKCe). Earlier work showed that this enzyme interacts with GABA A receptors in the brain. As activation of GABA A receptors reduces anxiety, we tested whether PKCe deficiency reduces anxiety. This research demonstrated that a complete absence of the enzyme greatly reduces anxiety," says study co-author Jacob Raber, an assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine.

"While there are anxiety medications such as Valium currently on the market, these pharmaceuticals often act as a sedative. Even more concerning, many anxiety medications are addictive in nature. We believe this enzyme may be an ideal drug target for medications without serious side effects," Raber says.

He and his colleagues compared the responses of mice bred to lack PKCe and normal mice to various settings and conditions. Mice lacking PKCe were less timid about being in open, lighted areas and showed less stress when place in a confined space for a limited period.

An estimated 30 million Americans suffer from anxiety severe enough to require treatment. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. People with anxiety disorders are three to five times more likely to see their doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than other people.

More information

For more about anxiety disorders, go to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

SOURCE: Oregon Health and Science University, news release, Oct. 3, 2002
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