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Anxiety genetics – findings from cross-species genome-wide approaches

Ewa Sokolowska1 and Iiris Hovatta12*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biosciences, Viikki Biocenter, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

2 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland

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Citation and License

Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2013, 3:9  doi:10.1186/2045-5380-3-9

Published: 9 May 2013


Anxiety disorders are complex diseases, which often occur in combination with major depression, alcohol use disorder, or general medical conditions. Anxiety disorders were the most common mental disorders within the EU states in 2010 with 14% prevalence. Anxiety disorders are triggered by environmental factors in genetically susceptible individuals, and therefore genetic research offers a great route to unravel molecular basis of these diseases. As anxiety is an evolutionarily conserved response, mouse models can be used to carry out genome-wide searches for specific genes in a setting that controls for the environmental factors. In this review, we discuss translational approaches that aim to bridge results from unbiased genome-wide screens using mouse models to anxiety disorders in humans. Several methods, such as quantitative trait locus mapping, gene expression profiling, and proteomics, have been used in various mouse models of anxiety to identify genes that regulate anxiety or play a role in maintaining pathological anxiety. We first discuss briefly the evolutionary background of anxiety, which justifies cross-species approaches. We then describe how several genes have been identified through genome-wide methods in mouse models and subsequently investigated in human anxiety disorder samples as candidate genes. These studies have led to the identification of completely novel biological pathways that regulate anxiety in mice and humans, and that can be further investigated as targets for therapy.

Anxiety disorders; Anxiety-like behavior; Mouse model; Cross-species approach; Genome-wide association study; Quantitative trait locus; Gene expression; Proteomics; Candidate gene