Scientists have identified two parts of the brain linked with severe anxiety in young monkeys, and they suspect these same areas may also play a role in children who develop anxiety disorders, offering new promise for treatment.
Nervous monkeys in the study showed heightened brain activity in the amygdala and anterior hippocampus, a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature.
"We're really excited about the findings because we think that they have the potential to have a direct impact on how we understand these illnesses in children and hopefully we can come up with better ways to treat kids based on this information," Ned Kalin, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.
He said monitoring those parts of the brain could help identify and treat high levels of anxiety, an important risk factor for developing the disorders as an adult.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.
The team tested 238 young rhesus monkeys using a high-resolution type of positron emission tomography or PET scan.
Human "intruders" posed a potential threat by standing near the monkeys' cages as researchers observed their reactions and measured brain activity.
The more anxious monkeys had higher activity in the central nucleus of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus. Researchers also could predict the degree of anxious behavior based on brain activity.
Kalin plans to use a similar approach in human children to see if the same brain regions play a role. If so, doctors may be able to test and treat at risk children in the hopes of warding off future problems.
"Basically the idea and the hope would be we could intervene in a way that we could, more or less permanently, change a young child's brain such that they would not have to struggle with these problems," Kalin said.
Kalin, who treats anxiety disorders in adults, said many children or adolescents exhibit early signs of the disorders, such as shyness and a tendency to stay quiet and not move when strangers are present.
As these children grow older, they are more likely to use alcohol and marijuana to self-medicate, Kalin said.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 12 Ağustos 2010, 11:22