A VALENCIAN biologist has discovered a new protein that helps regulate anxiety and could open a new chapter in mental health treatment.

Javier Gilabert Juan, winner of the regional Young Scientific Talent award in 2016 and currently Anatomy and Neuroscience professor at Madrid University, has been working on the protein known as OTX2 for the last three years.

Gilabert and his team first discovered that OTX2 was involved in the assimilation of abilities such as sight and hearing among human beings during childhood.

Their investigation then led them to check whether it could have an effect on depression, anxiety and learning difficulties as adults.

Experiments with mice revealed that those injected with OTX2 had a less anxious behaviour than ‘normal’ mice.

Valencia scientist

The next step, says Javier Gilabert, is to move onto more complex mammals to check exactly how the protein works to modify behaviour.

Previous studies showed that OTX2 was easier to regulate when the brain was still being formed, i.e. in infancy and childhood, but it has now also been found to respond in adults.

More specifically, Gilabert’s team aim to study the effect of the protein in cases of stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia.

If successful, the trials could open a new chapter in mental health medication, as the protein could boost the effect of existing drugs and help create new ones.

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