Killing 'zombie cells' cures anxiety in obese mice

By Tauren Dyson

Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Obesity increases the number of "zombie" cells, or senescent cells, inside the brain, causing more anxiety, new research says.

In a new study, researchers used senolytic drugs to decrease the number of zombie cells in mice brains. After taking drugs, the animals ended their anxious behavior, lost lipid cells in their brains and continued with normal neurological cell growth.


Senescent cells lay semi-dormant in various parts of the body, and eventually damage those parts. Some studies have even linked senescent cells to various conditions associated with aging like diabetes, osteoporosis and muscle weakness.

While the connection isn't quite clear, this current study's researchers know that obesity in humans and mice play a part in anxiety and other mood problems.

The researchers could spot anxiety in mice by using several validating tests. For one, anxious mice stay away from open areas, preferring to walk close to walls or corners. They also hesitate while walking through mazes, failing to complete the test.

Once the zombie cells were removed from their brains, the mice performed those tasks without anxiety.

As for humans, the National Institutes of Health says that more than 31 percent of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.


"Our data demonstrating a link between obesity, senescence and anxiety-like behavior provide critical support for the potential feasibility of administering senolytics to treat obesity-associated anxiety-like behavior, provided that clinical trials validate this approach," the study says.

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