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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 23:46 GMT 00:46 UK
'Gene for panic attacks'
Anxiety
Anxiety may be genetic
A gene may be partly responsible for causing psychological disorders such as panic attacks, say researchers.

A team from Ohio State University has found that people with a particular variation in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT) showed a greater fear response during a laboratory experiment.



The combination of genetic traits and psychological traits may ultimately be the best way to predict psychological disorders

Professor Norman Schmidt, Ohio State University

Lead researcher Professor Norman Schmidt said: "While a single gene cannot be held accountable for complex emotional states - such as anxiety disorders - we're beginning to pinpoint which genetic traits may make a person susceptible to developing psychological disorders."

The 5-HTT gene is responsible for regulating the chemical serotonin, which helps transmit messages in the brain.

The people who showed a greater fear response during an experiment had a variation in the gene that caused the brain to take up serotonin faster, leaving less available.

A lack of serotonin is thought to be linked to the development of psychological disorders.

In the study, 72 participants took two breaths of pressurised air through a mouthpiece.

The breaths were spaced 10 minutes apart. One breath consisted of pressurised room air, and the other was a carbon dioxide-oxygen mix designed to make subjects feel they are momentarily short of breath.

This can produce symptoms of anxiety in some people.

Subjects with the "long" form of the 5-HTT gene - the one implicated in the increased regulation of serotonin - reported feeling more anxiety when they took the carbon dioxide breath.

Dr Schmidt said. "It's clear that a single gene is rarely the culprit - there are multiple genes that are involved in most types of psychological disorders.

"But I think that the combination of genetic traits and psychological traits may ultimately be the best way to predict psychological disorders."



The presence or absence of a piece of genetic code will not necessarily determine how somebody reacts to stress

John Fraise, Adult Psychological Therapy Service

John Fraise, a chartered clinical psychologist at the Adult Psychological Therapy Service in Wakefield, said the research was interesting, but would not, in the short-term, make any difference to the practicalities of managing anxiety disorders.

He said: "My hands on experience of dealing with individuals for many years has led me to believe that some people may be more pre-disposed to stress than others.

"But I would suggest that many factors play a part.

"The presence or absence of a piece of genetic code will not necessarily determine how somebody reacts to stress.

"Some people may have developed skills to enable them to manage anxiety sufficiently well that they never manifest the problem even though the pre-disposition is there."

The study appears in the new issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

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13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Anxiety disorder
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