The elusive stress pill came a step closer to reality when researchers from the University of Leicester, UK and their partners in Poland and Japan, announced a breakthrough. Published in the prestigious journal Nature, the team proposed to have discovered a previously unknown pathway responsible for our stress response.
One of the curious things about stress is why people react so differently to situations and events they confront. This was the starting point for the investigation; find the factors that make some people more vulnerable to stress.
A key finding centers on the role of the amygdala and its production of a protein called neuropsin. Sometimes considered the fear center of the brain, the amygdala is almond-shaped and is involved in the processing of emotional memories and reactions. When we are under stress, the amygdala increases production of neuropsin and this has the effect of switching on a gene that leads to the stress response.
As with all preliminary findings the research team has tested their theory on mice. Mice under stress avoid areas in a maze that are open and illuminated and where they feel more vulnerable. When the protein neuropsin was blocked, either by drugs or gene manipulation, the mice no longer exhibited the fear response.
The study, which took four years to complete, has resulted in tremendous excitement. The knowledge that neuropsin pathways exist in the human brain opens the prospect of developing drugs that specifically target these pathways. This would represent the first major breakthrough in prevention and treatment of stress-related mental health problems such as anxiety-related disorders, including PTSD and depression.
‘Neuropsin cleaves EphB2 in the amygdala to control anxiety' by Attwood, Bourgognon, Patel, Mucha, Schiavon, Skrzypiec, Young, Shiosaka, Korostynski, Piechota, Przewlocki and Pawlak. Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature09938
Published On: April 27, 2011