Life scientists identify drug that could aid treatment of anxiety disorders

February 21, 2013 by Stuart Wolpert

(Medical Xpress)—The drug scopolamine has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including nausea and motion sickness. A new study by UCLA life scientists suggests that it may also be useful in treating anxiety disorders.

Researchers found that the drug can help boost the effectiveness of a common treatment for known as exposure therapy. In exposure therapy, a subject with a phobia or anxiety is repeatedly exposed to the object or situation they fear, in a non-threatening setting. The goal of this treatment is to ultimately lessen and eliminate the fear — in essence, make it "extinct."

However, fear- memories formed during this type of therapy tend to be weak because they are tied to the non-dangerous context. Subjects have a tendency to relapse when they again encounter the source of their anxiety in a different environment.

"Extinction has one Achilles heel that at present has not quite been pierced — namely, extinction learning is highly dependent on the environment or context in which it occurs," said Michael Fanselow, a UCLA professor of psychology and the senior author of the study. "This makes memories formed during extinction highly fragile and susceptible to fear-recovery or relapse in any non-extinction environment."

In their new study, published Feb. 15 in the in the journal Biological Psychiatry, Fanselow and his colleagues attempted to overcome this challenge by administering in conjunction with the exposure therapy.

"We took an entirely novel by targeting extinctions' context-dependency and attempting to unbind extinction from its contextual bond," said Fanselow, who holds UCLA's Eleanor Leslie Term Chair in Innovative Neuroscience. "Using a non-invasive and readily translatable pharmacological agent, scopolamine, to block cholinergic transmission and hence, contextual processing, we discovered that fear-recovery after extinction could be thwarted."

Fanselow and his team were able to disrupt contextual processing in rats during anxiety-extinction by using low doses of the drug.

"This finding provides groundbreaking evidence that changing the nature of extinction learning, rather then its magnitude, can produce profound improvements in the prevention of relapse," Fanselow said.

The research, while still preliminary, suggests that scopolamine may be an effective pharmacological adjunct to .

Explore further: Scopolamine: An old drug with new psychiatric applications

Related Stories

Treating addiction by eliminating drug-associated memories

April 23, 2009

Addicts, even those who have been abstinent for long periods of time, are often still vulnerable to their own memories of prior drug use.  For example, exposure to the same environment in which they commonly used drugs - ...

Recommended for you

For health and happiness, share good news

January 22, 2017

Service members, including both active and recently separated, have been called upon to fight overseas and to assist during natural disasters at home. They can face unique challenges when they return in both the workplace ...

The great unknown—risk-taking behaviour in adolescents

January 19, 2017

Adolescents are more likely to ignore information that could prompt them to rethink risky decisions. This may explain why information campaigns on risky behaviors such as drug abuse tend to have only limited success. These ...

Mandarin makes you more musical?

January 18, 2017

Mandarin makes you more musical - and at a much earlier age than previously thought. That's the suggestion of a new study from the University of California San Diego. But hold on there, overachiever parents, don't' rush just ...

Adoptees advantaged by birth language memory

January 18, 2017

Language learning very early on in life can be subconsciously retained even when no conscious knowledge of the early experience remains. The subconscious knowledge can then be tapped to speed up learning of the pronunciation ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.