Unravelling the Biology of Anxiety and Depression
Affective disorders such as anxiety and depression pose a serious public health concern. They are almost epidemic in society, occurring in about 1 in 5 people. Particularly problematic is the fact that these are not simply afflictions of old age: They are increasing in frequency in adolescents, and they are extremely common during the reproductive years. These affective disorders can drastically impair an affected individual's quality of life, leading to poor interpersonal relationships, an inability to work, and even suicide. Although current psychiatric and drug treatments can lessen the impact of these disorders, they offer no relief for a large percentage of patients.
Dr. Lisa Kalynchuk is a neuroscientist who studies how the brain controls the development of anxiety and depression. As a Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neuroscience, Dr. Kalynchuk uses sophisticated behavioural, pharmacological, anatomical, molecular, and computational techniques to identify the neurobiological changes in the brain that produce specific symptoms of anxiety and depression in different populations, ranging from young adults to the elderly.
Although anxiety and depression share some characteristics, they are also behaviourally and biologically distinct. In one set of experiments, Dr. Kalynchuk is studying how sensitization of certain regions of the brain produces specific symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder. In another set of experiments, she is examining how exposure to chronic stress affects the brain to produce symptoms of depression. The results of both sets of experiments are being compared in order to identify similarities and differences between the nature and neurobiological mechanisms of each of these disorders.
Dr. Kalynchuk's research is providing important new information about the cause of pathological anxiety and depression. It will lead to new pharmacological treatments that target specific symptoms in specific populations of patients and produce fewer unmanageable side effects. Ultimately, the research will also allow Dr. Kalynchuk and her fellow researchers to go even further by identifying strategies to prevent these pathologies from occurring in high-risk individuals.