SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, June 7 (UPI) — Puerto Rican scientists say they’ve found a method that induces a memory of safety in the brain of lab rats, suggesting a new therapy for anxiety disorders.
The University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine’s Dr. Gregory Quirk, who led the study, said rats normally freeze when they hear a tone they’ve been conditioned to associate with an electrical shock. The reaction can be extinguished by repeatedly exposing the rats to the tone with no shock.
But Quirk and his team discovered administering a protein directly into the brain of rats achieved the same effect as extinction training. The protein — brain-derived neurotrophic factor — is one of a class of proteins that support the growth and survival of neurons.
“The surprising finding here is that the drug substituted for extinction training, suggesting that it induced such a memory,” Quirk said.
Since the protein is implicated in mental disorders, scientists said the finding supports the idea that medications could be developed to augment the effects of the protein, providing opportunities for pharmaceutical treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.
The National institutes of Health-support study that included Laura Dieppa-Perea and Drs. Jamie Peters and Loyda Melendez, all at the University of Puerto Rico, appears in the journal Science.
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