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Making Mice Mellow: Rodents yield clues to improved anxiety drugs

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11:33am, October 2, 2002

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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