Study to investigate how fear and anxiety are formed in the brain

Sep 01, 2006

About 25 per cent of us will experience the effects of anxiety disorders at some point in our lives, with sometimes dire repercussions for friends, family and our own well-being. Yet little is known about the molecular mechanisms in the brain which contribute to stress-induced anxiety.

A neuroscientist at the University of Leicester has recently been awarded major EU funding amounting to €1.7m over four years to investigate how fear and anxiety are formed in the brain, in a project that could lead to more efficient ways of treating stress-related conditions.

Dr Robert Pawlak, a researcher in the University’s Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, has received the prestigious Marie Curie Excellence Grant to support his research project which will look at the mechanisms in the brain that lead to anxiety.

Fear memories are encoded as changes in neuronal connections called synapses, in a process known as plasticity. Dr Pawlak and his colleagues have recently shown that proteases (proteins that cut other proteins) play a critical role in this process and significantly contribute to fear and anxiety related to stress.

Dr Pawlak commented: “Understanding neural bases of stress, fear and anxiety is of immense importance to modern society. The most dramatic form, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterised by cognitive impairment, depression, fear, anxiety, and may eventually lead to suicide.

“Understanding the neural mechanisms of PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders could reduce the personal and societal impact through development of more efficient therapies. This project looks at cellular mechanisms involved in experience-induced neuronal plasticity underlying learning, fear and anxiety.”

Dr Blair Grubb, Head of the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, added: “EU Marie Curie Excellence Grants are extremely competitive and it is a major achievement that Robert Pawlak has made a successful application so early on in his independent research career.

“Robert is one of a number of neuroscientists working in this department and this grant award adds significantly to our research profile in this general area. The proposed research programme will make a major contribution to our understanding of how stress leads to fear and anxiety.”

Source: University of Leicester

Explore further: Survey finds benefits, risks of yoga for bipolar disorder

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Neural mechanisms linked with vulnerability to anxiety

Feb 09, 2011

New research examines the anxious brain during a fear conditioning task and provides insight into why some individuals may be more or less prone to anxiety disorders. The study, published by Cell Press in the February 10 ...

Forget all about it: Traumatic memories can be erased

Nov 09, 2009

It is well known that fear memories are permanent. However, a recent paper in Science, evaluated by three Faculty Members for F1000, reports an extraordinary finding that supports the use of a drug to control recollections of tra ...

Protected fear memories

Sep 11, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In the latest issue of Science, researchers from the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Switzerland, show how a class of proteins surrounding nerve cells allows fear memories to persis ...

Recommended for you

How stress tears us apart

1 hour ago

Why is it that when people are too stressed they are often grouchy, grumpy, nasty, distracted or forgetful? Researchers from the Brain Mind Institute (BMI) at EPFL have just highlighted a fundamental synaptic ...

Asia's rising tobacco epidemic

2 hours ago

Smoke-filled bars and packed cancer wards reflect decades of neglect of no-smoking policies in Asia, where both high- and low-income countries are belatedly waking up to a growing tobacco-related health ...

User comments : 0