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Precision drugs sought for anxiety disorders

31 Jan 2014

University of Helsinki researchers are striving to find out how cell communication regulating kainate receptors contribute to the susceptibility towards anxiety disorders.The intention is to also develop drugs that would be effective against prolonged anxiety.

Up to 5% of the Finnish population suffers from anxiety disorders, but little is known about the cellular, molecular and neural mechanisms that cause and maintain them.

A newly-launched multidisciplinary project at the University of Helsinki studies the role kainate receptors play in susceptibility to anxiety. Located on the surface of certain nerve cells, kainate receptors regulate cell-to-cell communication and the brain's processing power. 

Genetic factors revealed
The researchers want to determine whether certain hereditary forms of kainate receptors increase susceptibility to anxiety disorders. Another goal is to investigate whether anxiety could be treated by regulating the function of the kainate system.

“A long-term goal is to develop sorely-needed precision drugs for anxiety disorders,” explains Project Coordinator Iiris Hovatta from the  Department of Biosciences at the University of Helsinki.

Cooperation across disciplines
The research uses methods from genetics, electrophysiology and brain imaging. This enables researchers to combine molecular-level information from the brain with imaging data on the interaction between different brain areas.

Other project participants include Professor Jesper Ekelund from the psychiatric clinic of the Institute of Clinical Medicine, Docent Sari Lauri from the Department of Biosciences and the Neuroscience Centre, Docent Matias Palva and Docent Satu Palva from the Neuroscience Centre and Professor Tomi Taira from the Department of Veterinary Biosciences.

The project will receive an 814,000 euro grant from the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.


What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety and fear are normal reactions to a frightening situation. In an anxiety disorder, however, these fear-related emotions emerge and remain even when there is no reason to be afraid. In an anxiety disorder, the system regulating appropriate alertness malfunctions, generating a constant state of anxiety which significantly weakens the sufferer's capacity to function.