There’s fretting and then there’s generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), a condition characterised by chronic and excessive worry about everyday things. Brain-imaging studies have suggested GAD is associated with abnormal neural circuitry in brain regions involved in emotional regulation. Most studies have focused on neuron-loaded grey matter but researchers are turning to white matter, which is composed of nerve fibres and fires signals between disparate regions of grey matter. Looking closely at teenage brains, researchers have now found that this white matter network is degraded in adolescent GAD patients. Pictured is an image, cut in to lateral cross-sections, of an approximation of the average white matter network (green) in 25 teenagers with GAD and 24 healthy controls. The red parts mark sections where it has been significantly reduced in GAD patients compared to healthy teenagers. It appears that this degradation, by disrupting within-brain communication, may play a key role in inducing chronic anxiety.
Written by Daniel Cossins