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Scientists identify new risk factors for anxiety disorders

Study uncovers a previously unknown genetic pathway that contributes to the development of anxiety disorders.

By
Amy Wallace
Activation of the brain's fear network, visualized using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Researchers in Germany have identified four variants in the glycine receptor 5 gene that may be risk factors for anxiety disorders. Photo by Dr. Tina Lonsdorf, Systems Neuroscience UKE Hamburg
Activation of the brain's fear network, visualized using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Researchers in Germany have identified four variants in the glycine receptor 5 gene that may be risk factors for anxiety disorders. Photo by Dr. Tina Lonsdorf, Systems Neuroscience UKE Hamburg

Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Researchers in Germany have identified four variants of the glycine receptor B, or GLRB, gene as risk factors for anxiety and panic disorders.

The study from the University of Wurzburg consisted of 5,000 voluntary participants and 500 patients with panic disorder.

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GLRB had been known to researchers for a while but was associated with a different disease.

"Some mutations of the gene cause a rare neurological disorder called hyperekplexia," Professor Jurgen Deckert, member of the Collaborative Research Center, director of the Department of Psychiatry at the Julius-Maximillans University, or JMU, Hospital and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

Hyperekplexia can cause permanent hypertonic states and pronounced startle responses in patients.

Researchers found the GLRB gene variants associated with anxiety and panic disorders occur more frequently and have less severe consequences than those in hyperekplexia. However, they also cause an overshooting in startle responses.

"The results point to a hitherto unknown pathway of developing an anxiety disorder," Deckert said.

The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

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