Anxiety disorders are a group of brain disorders which present with persistent, excessive worry, feelings of panic, dread or fear. The anxiety may become so distressing that it interferes with a person’s ability to carry out or take pleasure in day-to day life. Anxiety is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic predispositions and strong environmental cues and triggers. There is no cure. Treatment is psychological therapy as well as antidepressant and anxiolytic drugs.

Until recently, adolescents have been neglected as a research target, at least partly due to the absence of laboratory models to study how and why adolescents are particularly vulnerable to anxiety disorders compared to other ages. Florey scientists are conducting both pre-clinical and human studies to compare adolescent and adult brain structure and chemistry and using this information to develop new treatment interventions in adolescent anxiety.

In another study, data suggests changes in the frontal cortex are causing the cognitive deficits experienced by people with depression. This is important because these cognitive deficits can change perception of our environment and this could be critical in the onset of depression. We know that drugs that target components of the pathways we have identified can marginally improve the symptoms of depression and once we understand the mechanisms by which the overall balance of biochemical pathways occurs in depression we predict we will be able to suggest new treatment strategies.