Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 40 million adults in the United States and are the most common form of psychiatric illnesses in both adults and children. There are numerous types of related disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
Recently, scientists found clues as to how anxiety operates in the brain and the way that the brain fights it. Their study revolves around the habenula, a structure in the brain, and the way nerve cells within it react to stress.
By conducting a series of tests on zebrafish, due to the similarities between their brain and the brains of mammals, scientists found that fish with a damaged batch of neurons in their habenula displayed higher levels of anxiety and signs of "helplessness." They believe that malfunction of the habenula in human brains could also be to blame for anxiety and direct stimulation may be an option to treat it.
Furthermore, the study highlights the importance of control for animals. "The feeling of control enables organisms to deal with stress," according to Dr. Suresh Jesuthasan from the Agency of Science, Technology and Research/Duke-NUS Neuroscience Research Partnership.
The team plans to focus their efforts now on studying the habenula in humans and learning how to manipulate it, especially with psychiatric medicine.