One-third of patients with anxiety disorders do not respond to currently available treatments, but researchers may have found a new way to help. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, reported that targeting the mitochondria appears to increase the effectiveness of anxiolytic treatments. Their report, titled “Selective Mitochondrial Targeting Exerts Anxiolytic Effects In Vivo,“ is the first to link mitochondrial function and anxiety. It was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
“Mitochondria are the so called ‘powerhouses’ of the cell, producing most of the cell’s energy” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Michaela Filiou, in a news release. Mitochondria are crucial for cells to function normally.
The researchers believe that they may have found a new approach, using a compound known as MitoQ, which protects the mitochondria. “We have found earlier that highly anxious mice have molecular changes in their mitochondria. We have now shown that treating them with a compound which reverses these mitochondrial changes decreases their anxiety” Dr. Filiou said.
MitoQ is an antioxidant, which means that it mops up toxic free radicals that can damage and even kill cells. Free radicals are produced as a part of normal cellular functions, but in excess they can cause disease, including psychiatric problems such as anxiety. Stress is a possible source of excessive free radical production.
The researchers studied what are known as high anxiety-related behavior (HAB) mice. They found that MitoQ reduced the mice’s anxious behaviors, as measured by several standard laboratory tests. Investigating further, the researchers looked into the molecular underpinnings of the MitoQ-driven anxiolytic effect, and found that MitoQ treatment altered the brain metabolome and that the response was characterized by distinct molecular signatures.
The authors concluded, “These results indicate that a mechanism-driven approach based on selective mitochondrial targeting has the potential to attenuate the high anxiety phenotype in vivo, thus paving the way for translational implementation as long-term MitoQ administration is well-tolerated with no reported side effects in mice and humans.”
Mouse studies are first steps toward human clinical studies, which are ultimately needed to confirm whether MitoQ can indeed help to reduce anxiety. Anxiety disorders are common, occurring in one out of every five people. Several different types of anxiety disorders exist, including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder.