Anxiety Disorders Linked to Mitochondria

Anxiety Disorders Linked to Disturbances in the Cells’ Powerhouses [Mitochondria]  19-Sep-2019 1 Newswise

The powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria, provides energy for cellular functions. But those activities can become disturbed when chronic stress leads to anxiety symptoms in mice and humans. Iiris Hovatta of the University of Helsinki and colleagues report these findings in a new study published 26th September in PLOS Genetics.

Chronic stress due to stressful life events, such as divorce, unemployment, loss of a loved one and war, are a major risk factor for developing panic attacks and anxiety disorders. 

This is not only proven, but also intuitively true, as we know from our own lives, once beset by chronic pain. 

Not all people who experience stressful life events go on to develop a disorder, however, and scientists are trying to identify the pathways that lead some people to be resilient to stress, while others become vulnerable to anxiety.

I can so clearly see my own change over the past two decades as my chronic pain imposed upon and limited more and more of my normal abilities. I used to be quite resilient (and spontaneous, and adventuresome) before gradually descending into being chronically anxious.

In the current study, researchers studied mice that developed symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as avoiding social interactions, after being exposed to high levels of stress.

Using a multi-pronged approach, they tracked changes in gene activity and protein production in a key region of the brain for stress-response and anxiety.

The analysis pointed to a number of changes in the mitochondria in the brain cells of mice exposed to frequent stress, compared to the non-stressed mice.

Furthermore, testing of blood samples collected from patients with panic disorder after a panic attack also showed differences in mitochondrial pathways, suggesting that changes to cellular energy metabolism may be a common way that animals respond to stress.

“Causing changes to cellular energy metabolism” confers a whole new level of significance to anxiety. It’s turning out to be a far more complex physical (and inheritable) state than expected.

I say “physical” because the genetic disorder of EDS expresses itself as both a physical disorder and a mental disorder. The connective tissue defect of EDS is also associated with anxiety.

The discovery that high levels of stress may substantially impact the functioning of the powerhouses of the cell opens up new avenues of research into stress-related diseases.

“Very little is known about how chronic stress may affect cellular energy metabolism and thereby influence anxiety symptoms,” said author Iiris Hovatta. “The underlying mechanisms may offer a key to new targets for therapeutic interventions of stress-related diseases.”

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS Genetics:
http://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1008358
Press-only preview: https://plos.io/2lWEQr4
Citation: Misiewicz Z, Iurato S, Kulesskaya N, Salminen L, Rodrigues L, Maccarrone G, et al. (2019) Multi-omics analysis identifies mitochondrial pathways associated with anxiety-related behavior. PLoS Genet 15(9): e1008358. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1008358

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