Rhesus monkeys provide insight about childhood anxiety

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health recently focused their intellectual efforts anxiety and brain activity in an attempt to discern which areas of the brain are relevant to developing childhood anxiety.  Ned  H. Kalin and his colleagues revealed that “increased brain activity in the amygdale and anterior hippocampus could predict anxious temperaments in young primates” (Science Daily).

Kalin stated, “Children with anxious temperaments suffer from extreme shyness, persistent worry and increased bodily responses to stress. […] These children are at increased risk of developing anxiety, depression and associated substance abuse disorders.”

Kalin’s past research substantiated that “anxious young monkeys are similar to children who are temperamentally anxious.”  In this study, researchers attempted to assess the extent to which genetic and environmental factors affect activity in anxiety-related brain regions.  Using a sample group of 238 young rhesus monkeys, researchers conducted postiron emission tomography (PET) scans; in humans, PET scans are used to “understand regional brain function by measuring the brain’s use of glucose.”

The study’s findings included the following:

“Young rhesus monkeys from a large related family showed a clear pattern of inherited anxious temperament;

Monkeys with anxious temperaments had higher activity in the central nucleus of the amygdale and the anterior campus; additionally, researchers could predict an individual’s degree of anxious temperament by its brain activity;

Genes and environmental factors affected activity in the amygdale and hippocampus in different ways, providing a brain-based understanding of how nature and nurture might interact to determine an individual’s vulnerability to developing common psychiatric disorders.”

Most surprising, however, was that “activity in the anterior hippocampus was more heritable than in the amygdale.”  This suggests that familial risk markers for anxiety could be “identified by understanding alterations in specific genes that influence hippocampal function.”  The study’s findings suggest that perhaps environmental factors can be modified in order “to prevent children from developing full-blown anxiety.”

The study substantiates, as many others have, that reaching children at an early age is crucial to successful intervention.  Brainjogging is one highly successful tool for successful intervention for anxious children or those at risk for developing anxiety.  Brainjogging increases children’s focus and decreases their anxiety. Parents and teachers generally notice an uptick in the moods of children with depressive tendencies and a settling of children with hyperactivity.

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