Panic disorder is a syndrome characterized by spontaneous and recurrent episodes of incapacitating anxiety. It typically emerges during adolescence or early adulthood and can take an exhausting emotional and physical toll on the body. Physical symptoms can include heart palpitations, sweating and/or chills, trouble breathing and dizziness, nausea and even chest pain.
While significant progress in both diagnosis and treatment has been made with panic disorder, a lot is still not known about what triggers these panic symptoms. There is evidence that a pH inbalance disruption in the body, known as acidosis, can unexpectedly cause the panic attack.
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) have found that a particular receptor in the body — acid-sensing T cell death associated gene-8 (TDAG8) — may have significant relevance to the physiological response in panic disorder. The research, a collaboration between Jeffrey Strawn, MD, and Renu Sah, PhD, both associate professors in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the UC College of Medicine, appears online in advance of publication in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
The TDAG8 receptor, a pH sensor, was first identified in immune cells of the body where it regulates inflammatory responses. Studies of animal models in Sah’s lab identified TDAG8 in immune cells of the brain, called microglia.
“Although we had reported the potential relevance of TDAG8 in panic physiology in the lab, we were uncertain whether the receptor would play a role in panic disorder. It was important for us to validate this in patients with this disorder,” says Sah.
Strawn says the UC research team then embarked on a basic science-clinical collaboration, seeking to understand the receptor’s expression in adolescents and young adults.
“We evaluated the role of this receptor in patients with panic disorder (including adolescents who were close to the onset of panic disorder). We saw a relationship between this receptor and panic disorder symptoms, in addition to differences between patients with panic disorder and healthy individuals,” says Strawn, who is also director of the Anxiety Disorders Research program at UC.