The genetic connection to anxiety genetic can’t be addressed without accounting for its inextricable relationship to environmental issues
Is anxiety genetic? Is anxiety inherited? What is anxiety? I found the following article of interest because the study reports that environmental stress could be responsible changing the genes that cause anxiety. What causes mental illness? The psychiatric community has been split between those who believe that mental illness and other behaviors are environmental, and those who consider mental illnesses such as an anxiety disorder to be genetic. Many agree that it is a little of both. Genetic research in mental health is making some fascinating discoveries and might someday provide us with a cure for certain illnesses and most definitely a more effective way to treat mental illness.
But this article seems to have shown some evidence that in certain cases stressful environmental conditions are responsible for the change in the the structure of the genes, and these genes might be responsible for several mental illnesses including anxiety. So in effect the environment is actually responsible for the genetic disposition for anxiety. The anxiety disorder or depressive disorder later in life manifests through continued stressful environmental circumstances, albeit the environment was responsible for the genetic changes that created the genetic predisposition. This gives us a better explanation when we say that a particular illness is genetic in origin.
To say that the cause of mental illness is genetic is somewhat of a vacuous answer because we can then ask what was the cause of the illness (anxiety) in the ancestor that passed this particular gene along, and on and on we go. Somewhere in the family of origin somebody had to be the first cause of this illness. Now the question of whether this first cause was a gene mutation, environmental issue, or traumatic stress issue cannot be avoided. We cannot go on ad infinitum answering that the causes of mental illness are simply genetic.
Anxiety as it Relates to Genetics
This article seems to insinuate that stress in our lives (especially during our fetal development) can actually turn on and off certain genes that protect us from specific mental illnesses such as anxiety and maybe even depression. This change in genetics ultimately fosters the disposition to developing such illnesses later in life. Environmental impacts on the cellular development is nothing new to the scientific community; however, this might be the “happy medium” between the Hatfield’s and the McCoys (those in the genetics camp and those in the environmental camp). We know that the brain is still developing through the teen years and our environment has a lot to do with how well our neuron develop and will impact how we cope with stress, happiness, depression, anxiety… We also know that methamphetamine abuse also effects the neuro-chemistry in the brain to the extent that the areas of the brain responsible for pleasure can be damaged. So again environmental issues having a devastating effect on the genetics and body chemistry are nothing new to science.
What this article concludes is that it is possible that the stressors in our lives, especially in our fetal stages and possibly early childhood can cause a genetic change in our bodies which impact the cellular functions and thus creates an organic basis for conditions such as anxiety. I have often wondered if this is even possible in adulthood as we see in many cases of PTSD and other anxiety disorders. We see this often with post traumatic stress disorder where the exposure to stress has a deleterious effect on the cellular level and thus inhibits the body’s ability to properly regulate the chemical balance between dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine to stave off an anxiety attack or depressive episode. We also know that brain is still developing through the teen years and environmental issues do affect this process. Based on these premises it is very conceivable to accept the theory that the environment has a significant role in genetic predispositions to many mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, OCD, and ADHD.
So at least this article finds a middle ground that should be acceptable to both camps because we often see that people who are exposed to horrendous amounts of stress respond very well to psychotropic drugs that are designed to regulate the chemical imbalances. This empirical evidence shows us that the illness being treated is in fact having an impact on a physiological level. Is anxiety genetic? Yes and No!
Is Anxiety Genetic – Environmental Impact on the Development of the Genes
University of Copenhagen – September 27, 2010
Stress has become one of the major disease states in the developed world. But what is stress? It depends on from where you look. You may experience stress as something that affects your entire body and mind, the causes of which are plentiful. But if we zoom in on the building bricks of the body, our cells, stress and its causes are defined somewhat differently. Stress can arise at the cellular level after exposure to pollution, tobacco smoke, bacterial toxins etc, where stressed cells have to react to survive and maintain their normal function. In worst case scenario, cellular stress can lead to development of disease.
Researchers from Dr.Klaus Hansen’s group at BRIC, University of Copenhagen, have just shown that external factors can stress our cells through the control of our genes. “We found that stress-activating factors can control our genes by turning on certain genes that were supposed to be silenced. It is very important that some genes are on and others are off in order to ensure normal fetal development and correct function of our cells later in life”says Dr. Klaus Hansen. Simmi Gehani, PhD-student in the Hansen group, found that exposing human cells to a stress-activating compound turned on silenced genes. Even brief changes in gene activation can be disastrous during fetal development as establishment of correct cellular identity can be disturbed in our cells. But altered gene activity can also have consequences in the adult body. “For example, one could imagine that prolonged stress causes nerve cells in the brain to produce hormones and other signalling molecules they do not normally produce and this can disturb normal brain function”says Simmi Gehani.
The Hansen research group is very interested in understanding how our genes are turned on and off. “We know that different protein complexes can associate with specific proteins (histones) to which DNA is wound around and thereby determine whether the genes are active or inactive. Small chemical groups can cause protein complexes to bind to histones and these can control gene activity” says Dr. Klaus Hansen. The researchers have studied in detail a complex called PRC2. PRC2 can attach small chemical groups – methyl groups – to the histones. Protective complexes can bind to the histones when this marker is present and the genes are turned off. Their new results show that the protective complexes are lost and selected genes turned on when cells are exposed to external stress factors. The reason why the complexes are lost is that the stress factors instruct an enzyme named MSK to attach another chemical group – a phosphate group – to the histones neighbouring the methyl group. The phosphate group neutralises the effect of the methyl group and turns specific genes on. “The consequence is that genes that should be turned off are now active and this may disturb cellular development, identity and growth” says Simmi Gehani. This means that without damaging our genetic code external stress factors can control the activity of our genes. The results are published in the renowned international journal Molecular Cell.