London: Scientists have found the brain`s most miserable molecule - a protein involved in all our feelings of stress, anxiety and depression - paving way for development of new drugs to control it.
Researchers used the Diamond Light Source, a particle accelerator at Harwell in Oxfordshire, which generates some of the world`s most powerful x-ray beams, to study molecules that jut from the outer surfaces of cells in the brain`s pituitary gland.
It is already known that the pituitary plays a crucial role in anxiety and depression by releasing stress chemicals into the blood.
However, it was not known how the response was triggered, although a protein named CRF1 was a suspect.
"Stress-related diseases such as depression and anxiety affect a quarter of adults each year, but what many people don`t realise is that these conditions are controlled by proteins in the brain, one of which is CRF1," said Fiona Marshall, chief scientific officer at Heptares Therapeutics, a drug discovery company in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.
"What we have done is to work out its structure, which tells us how it works and, potentially, means we can design drugs to control it," Marshall said.
CRF1 is embedded in the outer membranes of pituitary cells where it looks out for stress molecules released by the hypothalamus.
When it detects one it activates its parent cell to release hormones that, over long periods, cause anxiety and depression.
The powerful accelerator that scientists used illuminated the molecule`s entire atomic structure - including a crevice within it that could prove an ideal target for new drugs.
"Now we know its shape, we can design a molecule that will lock into this crevice and block it so that CRF1 becomes inactive - ending the biochemical cascade that ends in stress," Marshall said.
The results were published in journal Nature.