Scientists have found a new family of chemicals in the nervous system that help control stress and anxiety, as well as the production of new neurotransmitts.
The research, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggests the chemicals could be used to help regulate nervous system neurotransmitter levels and, possibly, to prevent stress and depression.
“The question is, can we get the same result in a more controlled environment?” said lead author Dr. Rishi Sengupta, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.
Sengupta is part of a team led by Dr. Andrew J. Hirsch, a professor of medicine at Yale University, that is investigating the use of chemicals called NMDA receptors.
The receptors are found in the brain’s neurons that help to regulate the activity of neurotransmitors like serotonin and dopamine, which are released in response to stress or emotional stimulation.
The scientists looked for the NMDA receptor, which is found in both the brains of rodents and humans, and found that they can be blocked in animals.
They found that NMDA-mediated signaling in the mice and humans’ nervous systems were disrupted when exposed to a stressor.
The NMDA pathway also plays a role in regulating the brain neurotransmitter dopamine and serotonin.
The NMDA pathways are also known to be activated by drugs that block the NMAD pathway.
These drugs have previously been used to treat depression, anxiety and Parkinson’s disease, but it is unclear how these drugs can block NMDA signalling and regulate mood and anxiety.
“We are interested in the mechanisms that govern how these chemicals work in our nervous systems and the effects they have on our mood,” Sengupta said.
“Our goal is to develop drugs that can be used safely to treat stress, anxiety, depression and other disorders.”
The researchers found that mice exposed to stressful environments showed less NMDA activity in their brains than controls.
The team also found that rats who had been given NMDA agonists, or NMDA antagonists, had reduced NMDA function in their brain.
Seth S. Ressler, a research professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, said that in the past, researchers have found that exposure to certain stressors, such as social exclusion or physical trauma, can alter the NMFA receptor function.
“When stress is in fact the key trigger for NMDA release, then NMDA signaling in response can be turned off, which can reduce the activity in the NMFAs,” he said.
Rheims said the results suggest that the NMMA receptor might be an important target for treatment for stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Sargents work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S.-India Science and Technology Development Corporation and the Department of Energy.