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Biological Chemistry

Seeking To Quell Panic Disorder

An experimental drug that controls steroid production in the brain rapidly halts panic attacks in people without side effects

by Sophie L. Rovner
June 22, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 25

Newly reported results on an experimental drug could lead to a new line of treatment for panic disorder, a condition that strikes a person with sudden intense fear for no apparent reason (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1175055). Current treatment for panic disorder, which afflicts some 6 million people in the U.S., comes in two forms: benzodiazepines, which work quickly but have side effects, or antidepressants, which take several weeks to work. Ranier Rupprecht of Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, in Munich, and colleagues report that XBD173 works by a different biochemical pathway than the current treatments to rapidly stop panic attacks in people without the side effects. According to the researchers, XBD173 binds to the translocator protein receptor on mitochondrial membranes in glial cells, thereby increasing production of steroids such as allopregnanolone in the brain. The steroids in turn drive up production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid, which dissipates the feeling of panic. The study, sponsored by Novartis, suggests that translocator protein ligands are promising candidates for fast-acting antianxiety drugs.


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