Public Release: 

$8 million Center for Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety established at NYU

New York University

$8 million NIMH Grant Will Support New Type of Research Effort, Linking Basic and Clinical Approaches Among NYC Research Institutions

Center Is Headed by NYU Neuroscientist Joeseph LeDoux

More than 16 million suffer from anxiety disorders, which include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. And these anxiety and fear related disorders are frequently complicated by depression, eating disorders and substance abuse.

While clinicians have been treating such problems for close to 100 years, neuroscientists have only begun in the last 10 years to make substantial progress in understanding the circuits in the brain that are responsible for fear and anxiety. Moreover, there is still something of a gulf between the researchers doing basic studies of brain function and clinicians searching for the best ways to diagnose and treat mental illness.

To bridge this gap, the Center for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety -- a new multi-institutional research center funded by the National Institute of Mental Health - has been established at NYU. The Center brings together leading researchers from five NYC research institutions: NYU's Center for Neural Science, the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Cornell University Weill Medical College, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Rockefeller University.

The center's goals are to understand how changes in the brain cause pathological anxiety states and to seek clues from basic research that could lead to new treatments for these devastating conditions.

The director of the center and its principal investigator is NYU neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, who has received international acclaim for his pioneering research on the brain mechanisms of emotional memory.

Professor LeDoux said, "The goal of this center is to explore the relation between fear and stress in experimental animals and to examine whether the effects of stress on fear circuits mimics changes that occur in fear-related disorders in humans. In this way, we hope to shed light on why particular treatments are effective, and to provide a foundation of basic research that will assist in the development of new diagnostic tools and treatments."

The center also has six co-principal investigators: Jack Gorman, Lieber Professor and vice chair for research, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; Patrick Hof, associate professor, Mount Sinai Medical Center; John Morrison, director of the Kastor Neurobiology of Aging Laboratories, Mount Sinai Medical Center; Bruce S. McEwen, Alfred E. Mirsky Professor and director of the Harold & Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University; and David Silbersweig and Emily Stern, directors of the department of psychiatry's Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

The center will conduct two major pieces of research:

    1. Research with Model Species The overall aim of the work with model organisms is to pursue the neural basis of fear and anxiety, and the behavioral functions, physiology, and morphology of fear circuits.

    2. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of Human Subjects Imaging will be done with subjects who have anxiety disorders and those who do not. The overall aim of the studies of normal humans is to extend our understanding of fear mechanisms in the human brain and to develop new probes for testing patients with fear disorders. The overall aim of the studies of patients with fear disorders is to determine whether the normal patterns of functional brain activation during fear are altered, and whether these alterations are consistent with the effects of stress on fear circuits, as determined in the work with model organisms.

The center is supported by an $8 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health as one of its translational research projects - the objective of which is to link basic and clinical researchers in an effort to better understand and treat neurological problems.

Steven E. Hyman, M.D., NIMH director, said, "NIMH is very pleased to support this outstanding group of investigators to study the neurobiology of fear and anxiety. This Center is particularly impressive as it combines research at all levels of analysis from molecular to human disease. This integration of basic and clinical work is the approach most likely to provide breakthroughs in understanding and treating complex disorders involving fear and anxiety." Joseph LeDoux is on the faculty of NYU's Center for Neural Science (CNS), which is internationally renowned for teaching and research in the brain sciences. Formed in 1987, the research interests of the CNS faculty span a broad range of topics in neural science, and utilize techniques ranging from molecular and cellular analyses to fully integrated systems, computational, and cognitive studies.

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