A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience identifies the gene NTRK3 as a factor that may play into the development of panic disorder, which affects up to 6 million Americans. Researchers at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) say that those with the gene are more likely to overestimate danger and have a stronger perception of fear, confirming a long-suspected genetic component to panic disorders.
In other words, the stress response is more pronounced in those with the gene, which, according to study co-author David D’Amico, results in “exaggerated formation of fear memories.”
Says Mara Dierssen, head of CRG’s Cellular and Systems Neurobiology group: “We have observed that deregulation of NTRK3 produces changes in brain development that lead to malfunctions in the fear-related memory system.”
The study explains that in individuals with the NTRK3 gene, memories of panic attacks are “stored” in such a way that can ultimately lead to the development of a full-blown panic disorder. This effect can be exacerbated by stressful conditions. The CRG researchers believe that environmental stress in Spain has led to growing numbers of anxiety disorders in Spanish citizens.
These findings may one day help in the creation of new treatments for anxiety and panic.