This is the first time that genetic analysis has been used to assess whether a psychological treatment like CBT will work for children.
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder in children. They include obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, separation anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder and affect approximately 10 per cent of young people.
The research team of Associate Professor Jennifer Hudson at The Centre for Emotional Health, Macquarie University and Dr Thalia Eley at the MRC Centre for Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London, collected DNA from 359 children diagnosed with anxiety disorder, which affects around one in twenty children in Australia. 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, 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 Hudson says: ‘Anxiety and fear are normal emotions that we experience both in childhood and across the lifespan, yet there are a significant number of children for whom anxiety has a major impact on their lives. Their fears and worries stop them from going to school, spending time with friends, and can affect their physical health. CBT has been shown to help children by changing the way they think about the world around them and to help them gradually face the situations in which they feel scared.’
‘Our study showed that this gene predicted whether children responded well to psychological therapy. The 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 the child is more responsive to CBT.’
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council (UK) and the Australian Research Council. The research was also recently awarded a 2011 Excellence in Research Award from Macquarie University.
For details of the award and a video clip featuring Professor Jennifer Hudson from Macquarie University, please click here.
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