The earliest days of infancy, new research suggests, could sow the seeds of anxiety in later life. Mice that lack a seratonin receptor just after they are born are abnormally anxious when they grow up, whether or not they have the receptor in adulthood.
With a new procedure, René Hen of Columbia University, New York, and colleagues, performed subtle time- and tissue-specific gene knockouts (Nature, Vol. 416, No. 6879, 28 Mar 02). Their findings could have wide-reaching implications for the importance of postnatal brain development in establishing normal emotional behaviour. Serotonin has important functions in the central nervous system and has been implicated in several psychiatric diseases such as anxiety and depression.
"The discovery that anxiety is linked to the need for serotonin1A receptors in a specific brain region at a particular period of development adds a new layer of understanding of serotonin’s function" says Solomon H. Snyder of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, in an accompanying News and Views article.
He adds that "the authors’ technique lends greater precision and flexibility to gene-knockout approaches for understanding neurotransmitter function, and will hopefully soon be extended to many other neurotransmitters and behaviours".
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