COLUMBUS, Ohio - Researchers are now investigating a gene they suspect may contribute to the development of psychological disorders such as clinical anxiety or panic attacks.
A new study found that people with a particular variation in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT) showed a greater fear response during a laboratory experiment.
"While a single gene cannot be held accountable for complex emotional states - such as anxiety disorders - we're beginning to pinpoint which genetic traits may make a person susceptible to developing psychological disorders," said Norman Schmidt, a study co-author and an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
The study appears in the new issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, published June 14.
The 5-HTT gene is responsible for regulating the chemical serotonin, which helps transmit messages in the brain. The people who showed a greater fear response during an experiment had a variation in the gene. This variation is linked to increasing the regulation of serotonin levels in the brain.
Increased regulation means that the neurons in the brain take up serotonin faster, leaving less available. "A decreased availability of serotonin may play a role in a variety of psychological disorders," Schmidt said.
In the study, 72 participants were separated into two groups based on each individual's expression of the 5-HTT gene. The researchers analyzed blood samples to determine how each subject expressed the gene. These subjects were considered "super-normal," because none had a history of psychiatric or medical disorders.
"When studying a risk factor for anxiety or other psychological disorders, it's best to use subjects in whom the factor hasn't yet manifested," Schmidt said.
In order to determine each subject's fear response, the participants took two breaths of pressurized air through a mouthpiece. The breaths were spaced 10 minutes apart. One b
Contact: Norman Schmidt
Ohio State University