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Making Mice Mellow: Rodents yield clues to improved anxiety drugs

Treatments for anxiety disorders often center on drugs that relieve symptoms but can be addictive and cause drowsiness and other side effects. These medications work on brain-cell receptors for either of two chemical messengers, GABA or serotonin.

A new study has taken the first steps toward identifying drugs that may pack a more effective anxiety-fighting punch. Mice bred to lack the gene for an enzyme called protein kinase C epsilon (PKCe) display far more calmness and curiosity in stressful situations than do mice who possess the gene, according to a research team led by neuroscientist Robert O. Messing of the University of California, San Francisco.

The scientists theorize that the absence of PKCe enhances the sensitivity of GABA receptors to a class of messengers known as neurosteroids. This boosts GABA's effectiveness at slowing down communication among neurons. Depletion of GABA has been linked to anxiety disorders.

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