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Scientists Discover Probable Way to Silence Fear Gene


Unexpected meeting with Shrek in the Universal Studios. Image credit: Aaron Jacobs / CC BY-SA 2.0.

A group of scientists led by Dr Timothy Bredy at Queensland Brain Institute of University of Queensland, Australia has identified a way to silence the gene responsible for fear.

This new study, released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is focused on the processes related with decreasing the grip of fear-oriented memories, especially those involved in the situations like phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr Timothy Bredy and his team has found a totally new mechanism of regulating gene so as to extinguish fear, which is kind of an inhibitory learning process to be regarded as critical factor in  controlling fear when there is no need to get response any longer.

As Dr Bredy said, instead of being static, the approach that genes work was very dynamic and could be changed by our daily life experiences, having a pronounced impact in the emotionally relevant events

If scientists could have a better understanding of the basic links illustrating how DNA would function without a change in the underlying sequence, therapeutic intervention targeted at the fear-oriented anxiety disorders then would become realistic.

This might be realized by the means of the selective enhancement of memory for fear extinction to target at genes subject to this new approach to the epigenetic regulation.

According to Xiang Li, a PhD candidate at Queensland Brain Institute, who was also the first author on the study, fear extinction could be a clear instance showing the rapid behavioral adaptation. The impairments in such process were largely related with the development of fear-related anxiety disorders.

It is exciting that Dr Timothy Bredy and his team have demonstrated an epigenetic state which looks very special for fear extinction.

The research undertaken by Dr Timothy Bredy and his team was the first comprehensive analysis focused on how fear extinction could be influenced through DNA modification. At the same time, their study  has also concentrated the importance of experience-dependent changes in the chromatin landscape in the adult brain.

Journal reference: Xiang Li et al. Neocortical Tet3-mediated accumulation of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine promotes rapid behavioral adaptation. PNAS, published online April 22, 2014; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318906111