The research team, led by Dr Thalia Eley at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, collected DNA from 359 children diagnosed with anxiety disorder, which affects around one in twenty children in the UK . Those found to have a shorter version of the 5HTPP genetic marker were 20 per cent more likely to respond to CBT and to be free of their anxiety six months after the end of their treatment.
Two forms of the 5HTTP gene commonly exist within the human population; a short form and a long form. The short form has previously been shown to predict which individuals are likely to be prone to depression when under stress. More recently it has been proposed that the short form influences how individuals respond to their environment more generally, be it positive or negative. In this study children with the short form of the gene were more responsive to the positive environment of CBT, and were more likely to get better.
Dr Thalia Eley from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London says:
“Childhood anxiety is beginning to be recognised as a serious health problem. Many children with severe anxiety end up missing school and losing out on normal opportunities, not just in school but socially. CBT has been shown to help individuals think about the world around them and to experience their environment in a more health, positive way and hopefully stem the impact of anxiety before it gets worse in adulthood.
“Our study showed that having a short form of the gene, which can contribute to a child feeling more negative when things are stressful, may have a positive flipside, in that they are more responsive to the positive messages taught in CBT.”
Professor Chris Kennard, chair of the MRC Neurosciences and Mental Health Board that funded the research, says:
“Studies exploring whether genetic analysis might be helpful in deciding whether a drug treatment will or will not work have exploded over the last ten years. What is fascinating about this study is that this is the first time that a gene has been used to determine whether a psychological treatment is likely to have a therapeutic effect. The Medical Research Council is committed to funding research that will lead to better, more effective treatments for patients and hopefully this research will lead to a more tailored approach for treating anxiety.”
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Notes to Editors
1. Original Research paper: Therapygenetics: predicting response to psychological therapy from a genetic marker is published in Molecular Psychiatry
2. For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk
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King’s has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.
King’s has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.
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