Are Anxiety and Depression Similar? Technology is Improving Potential for Psychiatric Diagnostics

Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., brain & behavior research expert on depression and anxiety symptoms
Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D.

As two Brain & Behavior Research Foundation-funded investigators point out in an article appearing online August 14th in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, more than half of people suffering from depression and anxiety show symptoms of both disorders. Scientists are trying to tease them apart and figure out how best to treat their often overlapping constellation of symptoms.

Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., a 1996 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee and member of the Foundation’s Scientific Council, and Scott Russo, Ph.D., a 2006 and 2008 recipient of NARSAD Young Investigator Grants, both of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, note that in the last decade, researchers have identified problems in the way people perceive rewards, or experience ordinarily pleasurable events. The circuits encoding these responses don’t work properly, giving rise to depression, anxiety, or both.  

With a recently emerging new arsenal of technologies and advanced tools―genetic probes and imaging methods―Drs. Nestler and Russo are optimistic that in the years immediately ahead, investigators will determine at the level of specific cell types in the brain how specific neural circuit defects give rise to the symptoms associated with each of these broad syndromes.

As there is great biological subtlety and complexity in brain-related disorders, the authors say that “psychiatry desperately needs a diagnostic system based on underlying genetic and neurobiological factors that define subtypes” of depression, anxiety and related disorders. They stress the urgency of finding biomarkers that will, for instance, enable identification of gender-specific depression mechanisms since women are known to be at significantly higher risk for depression and anxiety than men. Such markers could lead to the development of “specialized gender-based medicines,” and also enable doctors to more accurately predict who will benefit from particular treatments.

Read the abstract of this research study.