NARSAD Grantee Finds Reduced Brain Connections in People with Anxiety

Jack Nitschke, Ph.D., a neuroscientist, clinical psychologist, and associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jack Nitschke, Ph.D.

A new study published online reveals that people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) have weaker connections in the brain that effect the amygdala, a pair of small organs within the medial temporal lobes of the brain whose primary role is in the processing and memory of emotional reactions such as anxiety symptoms or the 'flight or fight' response seen in people with panic disorder.

Jack Nitschke, Ph.D., a neuroscientist, clinical psychologist, and associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the lead author of this new study which was published online September 4th in the Archives of General Psychiatry, a journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Nitschke was the recipient of a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant in 2005. He says that this new study lends support to the theory that the intense anxiety experienced by people with GAD is due to reduced communications between parts of the brain and that suggests that behavioral therapy helps people with GAD by strengthening the impaired brain connections. "It's possible that this is exactly what we're doing when we teach patients to regulate their reactions to the negative events that come up in everyone's lives,'' Nitschke says. "We can help build people's tolerance to uncontrollable future events by teaching them to regulate their emotions to the uncertainty that surrounds those events.”

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