Neurobiology of generalized anxiety disorder

Praveen V. Jetty, Dennis S. Charney, Andrew W. Goddard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

64 Scopus citations


On reviewing the literature on GAD and trying to summarize the various developments in the field of neurobiology of GAD, we see that a range of hypotheses try to explore and integrate the observations found into potentially meaningful theories. Abnormal serotonergic and GABAergic function occur in many patients with GAD. Functional imaging data have shown increased cortical activity and decreased basal ganglia activity in patients with GAD, which reverses with treatment, but it is apparent that no one theory is sufficiently comprehensive to propose a unitary hypothesis for the development of GAD and other anxiety disorders. GAD is a relatively new diagnosable condition, first introduced into the classification system of psychiatric disorders in 1980, and since then has undergone a series of changes in its conceptualization, with some investigators questioning the existence of the condition as a distinct entity. Any inferences that may be drawn from various studies must be guarded, and it is appropriate to compare studies using the same diagnostic criteria. Significant research has been done and may lead to exciting new discoveries in the treatment of anxiety disorders in general and GAD in particular. Gray's model of behavioral inhibition, in which the septohippocampal system acts by assessing stimuli for the presence of danger and, when that is detected, activates the behavioral-inhibition circuit, provides a neuroanatomic conceptualization that has been expanded by preclinical research. Some exciting work has been done on CRF and the concept of development, vulnerability, and kindling and some investigators have contributed to this area of interest. This concept supports the hypothesis that a genetic predisposition, coupled with early stress, in the crucial phases of development may result in a phenotype that is neurobiologically vulnerable to stress and may lower an individual's threshold for developing anxiety or depression on additional stress exposure. The pharmaceutical industry is exploring treatment options using CRF antagonists, and research on other neuropeptides, especially NPY, will be of interest. Research on neurosteroids also may bring the opportunity for pharmacologic treatment approaches. Future research on the startle reflex and on the NMDA and the metabotropic glutamate receptors is important. Future studies of a more homogenous patient population and using more sophisticated techniques, such as molecular genetic strategies and better imaging techniques, may answer some of the outstanding questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-97
Number of pages23
JournalPsychiatric Clinics of North America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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