A drug currently in clinical trials to treat obesity might also provide a way to combat anxiety disorders, says a new study.
The study reveals a new biological pathway that regulates anxiety and obesity - the two growing problems in society.
"Not only have we found a new biological pathway that regulates anxiety and obesity, but we also found that they may be amenable to treatment with the same drug," said Hsiao-Huei Chen, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada.
Knowing that a common biological link exists between obesity and anxiety, it may be possible to treat the disorders in tandem.
Chen and her colleagues were originally studying the effect of a gene called LMO4 on brain development and regeneration when they noticed that mice that lacked this gene in a certain part of the brain displayed anxious behaviour and became obese.
Their new research, together with a previous study, shows that an enzyme called PTP1B plays a crucial role in a molecular pathway that links LMO4, anxiety, obesity and the body's natural marijuana (endocannabinoid) system.
When the researchers used a drug (trodusquemine) that specifically inhibits the activity of PTP1B, they found that both anxiety and obesity were reduced.
"Current treatments for anxiety disorders have addiction issues and other side effects."
"Our approach lets the brain fix itself by simply re-instating the appropriate level of PTP1B," said Chen.
Trodusquemine is in clinical trials for its effects on appetite control and weight loss.
Previous studies have found that people with metabolic and obesity-related diseases often suffer from mood or anxiety disorders.
The study was published in Neuron.