July 21, 2014

Reversing stress-induced anxiety

Augmenting the signals of natural “endocannabinoids” in the brain may be a promising approach for treating mood and anxiety disorders.


Stress is a major risk factor for the development of mood and anxiety disorders. Mounting evidence suggests that deficits in signaling by endogenous cannabinoids (eCBs) – molecules that activate the same receptors turned on by the active ingredient in marijuana – contribute to stress-induced anxiety. Augmenting natural eCB signaling may be a promising approach for treating mood and anxiety disorders.

Sachin Patel, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues tested the role of anandamide signaling – a well-studied eCB – on acute stress-induced anxiety. Using two mouse models of anxiety-like behaviors, they found that inhibition of the anandamide-degrading enzyme FAAH reversed the stress-induced anxiety state. They also demonstrated that acute stress reduces overall levels of anandamide in the brain, and that low levels of anandamide correlate with higher anxiety-like behavioral measures.

The findings, reported July 8 in Translational Psychiatry, indicate that brain anandamide levels predict acute stress-induced anxiety, and that augmenting eCB signaling is a viable strategy for treating stress-related psychiatric disorders.

These studies were supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (MH090412, MH100096, MH064913, DA031572, GM015431).

Send suggestions for articles to highlight in Aliquots and any other feedback about the column to aliquots@vanderbilt.edu