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Anxiety is in Genes, Passed on from Anxious Parents: Study

depressionAnxious parents are more likely to have anxious offspring, says a new study based on its finding from monkeys that would throw light into the possibility of developing anxiety and depression on hereditary basis.

The study from the Department of Psychiatry and the Health Emotions Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows how an over-active brain circuit involving three brain areas inherited from generation to generation anxiety and depression.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that elevated activity in this prefrontal- limbic -midbrain circuit is likely involved in mediating the in-born risk for extreme anxiety, which can be observed in early childhood.

“Over-activity of these three brain regions are inherited brain alterations that are directly linked to the later life risk to develop anxiety and depression,” says senior author Dr. Ned Kalin of UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “This is a big step in understanding the neural underpinnings of inherited anxiety and begins to give us more selective targets for treatment.”

By studying nearly 600 young rhesus monkeys from a large multi-generational family, Andrew Fox, Kalin, and colleagues found that about 35 percent of variation in anxiety-like tendencies is explained by family history.The authors found the neural circuit where metabolism and an early-life anxious temperament are likely to share the same genetic basis.

Interestingly, the brain circuit that was genetically correlated with individual differences in early-life anxiety involved three survival-related brain regions — the amygdala, the limbic brain fear center; and the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-level reasoning and is fully developed only in humans and their primate cousins.

Kalin says, “Our genes shape our brains to help make us who we are.”

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