The nerves we feel before a stressful event--like speaking in public, for example--are normally kept in check by a complex system of circuits in our brain. Now, scientists at Rockefeller University have identified a key molecule within this circuitry that is responsible for relieving anxiety. Intriguingly, it doesn't appear to reduce anxiety in female mice, only in males. "This is unusual, because the particular cell type involved here is the same in the male and female brain--same in number, same in appearance," says Nathaniel Heintz, Ph.D., Head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "It's a rare case where a single cell type is activated by the same stimulus, but yields two different behaviors in each gender." Dr. Heintz and colleagues demonstrated that a protein called corticotropin-releasing hormone-binding protein (CRHBP) reduces anxiety in male mice by halting the activity of a stress-inducing hormone. Published in the September 22, 2016 issue of Cell, the results may provide insights into new therapies for anxiety-related conditions. The Cell article is titled “A Cortical Circuit for Sexually Dimorphic Oxytocin-Dependent Anxiety Behaviors.” It's a well-known fact that our social and emotional behaviors--and disorders associated with these behaviors-- vary between men and women. For example, autism is more prevalent among men, while anxiety-related disorders tend to be more common in women. Differences in hormone levels and brain circuitry are thought to contribute to this variation, but the specific mechanisms responsible are not well understood.
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