The expression of symptoms and the underlying chemical causes of anxiety and depression are inherited. Dr. Ned Kalin, chair of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and colleagues were the first to prove that anxiety and depression are inherited. The study was reported in the July 6, 2015 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers observed the behavior of 600 young rhesus monkeys from family groups that had a history of anxiety. Over 35 percent of the animals displayed excessive anxiety when confronted with a perceived threat. All of the behavior that represented anxiety could be related to family members that demonstrated the same behavior.
The researchers examined the brains of all the monkeys with functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography. The anxiety behavior was found to be related to different regions of the brain located in the brain stem. The brain stem is considered the most primitive part of the brain. The amygdala, the limbic brain fear center; and the prefrontal cortex showed the highest levels of activity associated with anxiety.
The researchers note that the development of anxiety may have an evolutionary advantage for monkeys and humans in producing a higher state of awareness of threats.
The study was the first to definitely prove that anxiety and depression are inherited. The function of the brain structures associated with anxiety and depression were the key to problems with excessive anxiety and depression and not the size of the region of the brain. This discovery may lead to the genetic cause of excessive anxiety and depression in humans.
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