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Gene Discovered That May Regulate Anxiety, Fear

Mice lacking the gene seem to be fearless in conditioning tests

THURSDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Stathmin is a gene highly expressed in the fear-processing centers of the brain, and mice that lack the gene have an inability to develop innate and conditioned fear responses, according to a study in the Nov. 18 issue of Cell.

Previously, Gleb P. Shumyatsky, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, and colleagues found that stathmin is expressed in single cells derived from the lateral nucleus of the amygdala, a region responsible for innate fears including a fear of heights or predators, and conditioned fear, which is learned from visual or auditory stimuli.

The research group now confirms the gene is widely expressed in the lateral nucleus of mice and it is critical for long-term potentiation in this region. Stathmin knockout mice have a reduced innate fear response to open spaces and an elevated maze, and are slow to learn conditioned responses to mild electric shock.

Stathmin controls microtubule assembly, important for the plasticity of nerve cell connections, which may be the reason why the knockout mice are slow to develop fear-conditioning neural circuitry. The mice can now be used to study anxiety disorders and for the development of anti-anxiety agents, the authors report.

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