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Category Archives: Feature

Controlling fear by modifying DNA

Controlling fear by modifying DNA

For many people, fear of flying or of spiders skittering across the lounge room floor is more than just a momentary increase in heart rate and a pair of sweaty palms.

It’s a hard-core phobia that can lead to crippling anxiety, but an international team of researchers, including neuroscientists from The University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), may have found a way to silence the gene that feeds this fear.

QBI senior research fellow Dr Timothy Bredy said the team had shed new light on the processes involved in loosening the grip of fear-related memories, particularly those implicated in conditions such as phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr Bredy said they had discovered a novel mechanism of gene regulation associated with fear extinction, an inhibitory learning process thought to be critical for controlling fear when the response was no longer required.

“Rather than being static, the way genes function is incredibly dynamic and can be altered by our daily life experiences, with emotionally relevant events having a pronounced impact,” Dr Bredy said.

He said that by understanding the fundamental relationship between the way in which DNA functions without a change in the underlying sequence, future targets for therapeutic intervention in fear-related anxiety disorders could be developed.

“This may be achieved through the selective enhancement of memory for fear extinction by targeting genes that are subject to this novel mode of epigenetic regulation,” he said.

Mr Xiang Li, a PhD candidate and the study’s lead author, said fear extinction was a clear example of rapid behavioural adaptation, and that impairments in this process were critically involved in the development of fear-related anxiety disorders.

“What is most exciting is that we have revealed an epigenetic state that appears to be quite specific for fear extinction,” Mr Li said.

Dr Bredy said this was the first comprehensive analysis of how fear extinction was influenced by modifying DNA.

“It highlights the adaptive significance of experience-dependent changes in the chromatin landscape in the adult brain,” he said.

The collaborative research is being done by a team from QBI, the University of California, Irvine, and Harvard University.

The study was published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Media: Dr Timothy Bredy, +61 7 3346 6391, t.bredy@uq.edu.au

Kidney disease gene controls cancer highway

Kidney disease gene controls cancer highway

University of Queensland researchers have discovered that a gene that causes kidney disease also controls growth of the lymphatic system, a key route through which cancer spreads. Pkd1 is the most frequently mutated gene in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, which causes cysts to develop on kidneys and can lead to renal failure. Researchers, ledContinue Reading

Queensland fraud is a billion dollar business

Queensland fraud is a billion dollar business

Queensland businesses could be losing over $12 billion per annum as a result of company fraud according to a recent study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) – and small businesses are most at risk. ”Fraud is not just a problem for big business,” said Professor Keitha Dunstan who heads the School ofContinue Reading

Inside the mind of a burglar

Inside the mind of a burglar

Burglars are opportunistic, generally choose their targets at random and know all the tricks householders try to use as deterrents, according to a new study from ECU. In conjunction with the Australian Institute of Criminology, researchers from ECU’s School of Law and Justice conducted the study with 69 participants who admitted to having committed aContinue Reading

Flight experiment goes boldly forth to advance new technology

Flight experiment goes boldly forth to advance new technology

A hypersonic flight experiment at eight times the speed of sound, led by a University of Queensland PhD student, has safely launched in Norway. PhD student Dillon Hunt, a senior mission systems engineer with Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), was scientific and technical lead for the trial. It involved scientists from four nationsContinue Reading

Pre-drinking alcohol before hitting the nightclubs likely to lead to violence

Pre-drinking alcohol before hitting the nightclubs likely to lead to violence

The increasingly common practice of drinking at home before hitting the nightclubs is the major predictor of people experiencing harm or violence, Australia’s largest study into alcohol-related nightlife crime has found. The ‘Dealing with alcohol-related harm and the night-time economy (DANTE)’ study compared the effectiveness of alcohol-related crime prevention measures put in place between 2005Continue Reading

Research reveals women are more interested in a man’s earning capacity than the size of his wallet

Research reveals women are more interested in a man’s earning capacity than the size of his wallet

Despite ABBA’s insistence that women long for “money, money, money”, research has found that The Beatles were on the right path when they sang “money can’t buy me love.” Dr Peter Jonason from the University of Western Sydney is an expert in personality psychology and individual differences. With colleagues from Singapore Management University and NewContinue Reading

Challenges still face women seeking seniority in business

Research conducted by the UTS Centre for Corporate Governance underpinning the 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership reveals a decade of negligible change for women in executive ranks. The Census was launched this week by Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia on behalf of the Equal Opportunity for Women inContinue Reading

Swiss Army Knife teeth secret to seal’s success

Swiss Army Knife teeth secret to seal’s success

Biologists have shown how an advanced set of teeth give Antarctic leopard seals the biological tools to feast on prey of all sizes, from penguins to tiny krill. The seals are infamous for their ‘grip and tear’ feeding tactics where they shake penguins and larger prey while holding them between their long front teeth. Now,Continue Reading

Beautiful physics: Tying knots in light

Beautiful physics: Tying knots in light

New research published today seeks to push the discovery that light can be tied in knots to the next level. Dr Anton Desyatnikov from the Nonlinear Physics Centre at The Australian National University is part of an international team of scientists who are designing knots in light, with potential applications in advanced modern optics, laserContinue Reading

Why the world’s biggest fish needs to swim near the surface

Why the world’s biggest fish needs to swim near the surface

Whale sharks, the world’s biggest fish, can dive to chilly waters hundreds of metres deep but they need to return to the surface to warm up, according to a new study led by researchers from The University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute. Lead researcher Dr Michele Thums said the findings delivered new insights into theContinue Reading

Menopause not to blame for weight gain

Menopause not to blame for weight gain

Menopause doesn’t cause women to gain weight, but affects where weight gain occurs, according to the latest research. In a study published in the International Menopause Society’s journal, Climacteric, researchers, led by Monash University’s Professor Susan Davis, conducted a review of existing research and found that post-menopausal weight gain was not linked to hormonal changes.Continue Reading

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