Even More Evidence That Anxiety Can Be Genetic

Anxiety disorders often emerge in adolescence, when the brain goes through massive changes and new genes are expressed. Now, researchers have found a gene that may be a factor in the general peak of anxiety during this time.

They also found that carrying a common version of this gene may protect people from anxiety.

“We were interested in why it’s that anxiety peaks in adolescence, and in understanding the factors that might increase risk for anxiety to help target intervention and treatment,” said study author Dylan Gee, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.

In the study, Gee and her colleagues focused on a genetic factor linked with anxiety that is also involved in asystem called the endocannabinoid system. This system includes a number of signaling molecules — along with receptors and enzymes — that are involved in regulating appetite, pain and mood. (It’s also the system that responds to the psychoactive effects of cannabis.)

As a person enters adolescence, changes in gene expression increase the number of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The levels of enzymes and signaling molecules fluctuate as well, altering the communication throughout this system. But exactly how the communication is altered depends on which version of certain genes a person has.

In the new study, the researchers focused on the gene that encodes a regulatory enzyme called FAAH. Most people carry the default version of the FAAH gene, but 20 percent carry a variant. Depending on which one a person carries, the levels of the FAAH enzyme could increase or decrease during adolescence, which affects brain development differently.

Using brain scans from 1,050 children and young adults ages 3 to 21, the researchers investigated the effects on the wiring of the brain of those people who carried default or variant FAAH. Specifically, —> Read More