Virginia Tech researchers may shed new light on the potential cause of mental health conditions including stress and anxiety.
Researchers studying brain development have identified a molecule which disrupts brain development and increases baseline levels of cortisol, making the primary stress hormone less able to do its job in times of stress.
The findings, published in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, point to a better understanding of the role of programmed cell death in the developing brain and may lead to new therapies for stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety.
The team turned to zebrafish, a vertebrate whose genetics have much in common with humans and is an increasingly important model to study brain function and dysfunction that can be applied to humans. Baseline measurements of the modified zebrafish showed levels of cortisol – the primary stress hormone – two to three times higher than in the control group.
Y. Albert Pan, an associate professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, sees the research as potentially leading to new therapies for stress-related disorders.
“If there are different ways of treating people who have less or more cells, that would be beneficial in terms of targeting the right therapy to the right people,” he said.
Pan received a $2 million, five-year National Institutes of Health grant administered by the National Institute of Mental Health that will allow his lab to further explore the mechanisms that regulate the stress response and the significance of programmed cell death in neurons that coordinate behavioral and endocrine responses to stress.