Genes and Environmental Stress Play a Large Role in Panic Disorder

panicSpain has released new research stating that the gene NTRK3 may play a role in panic disorder.[1] The gene appears to increase the perception of fear and leads a person to overestimate danger, causing a heightened sense of alarm and anxiety.1

In a study published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers defined the specific mechanism for the formation of fear memories that could aid in the development of new pharmacological and cognitive treatments.1

Panic disorder affects between three and six-million Americans.1 It is often accompanied by other conditions, such as depression, alcoholism, and phobias.1 Feelings of terror strike suddenly and repeatedly with little warning. Panic attacks can last several minutes and cause physical reactions such as palpitations, cold sweats, dizziness, shortness of breath, tingling, nausea, and stomach pain.1 People with panic attacks feel chronically anxious about suffering another attack.1

Experts have always suspected the disorder to have a neurobiological and genetic basis, and now researchers from the Centre for Genomic Regulation have found the gene NTRK3 is a factor in genetic susceptibility to panic disorder.1 Deregulation of NTRK3 produces changes in brain development that leads to malfunctions in the fear-related memory system.1 This system is more efficient at processing information that has to do with fear, which causes a person to overestimate risk in a situation and feel more frightened.1 That information is then stored in a more lasting and consistent manner.1

Different regions of the human brain are responsible for processing fear, and the hippocampus and amygdala play critical roles.1 The hippocampus is responsible for forming memories and processing contextual information; therefore, a person may be afraid of being in places where they could suffer another panic attack.1 The amygdala is important in converting this information into a physiological fear response.1

While these circuits are activated in everyone in warning situations, researchers have discovered that in people who suffer panic disorders, there is an over-activation of the hippocampus and altered activation in the amygdala circuitry which results in exaggerated formations of fear memories.1

Unfortunately there is no cure for the disease, although it is treated with medicine and cognitive behavioral therapy.1 People can get better, but will always have to manage their symptoms.1

[1] Nauert, R. (2013). Genes + Environmental Stress = Panic Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/12/02/genes-environmental-stress-panic-disorder/62740.html

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