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Neuromolecular Med. 2004;5(1):27-40.

The serotonergic system and anxiety.

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Department of Psychiatry, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, NY, USA.


The wide use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin receptor agonists in anxiety disorders has suggested a key role for the modulatory neurotransmitter in anxiety. However, serotonin's specific role is still uncertain. This article reviews the literature concerning how and where serotonergic agents modulate anxiety. Varying and sometimes conflicting data from human and animal studies argue for both anxiolytic and anxiogenic roles for serotonin, depending on the specific disorder, structure, or behavioral task studied. However, recent data from molecular genetic studies in the mouse point toward two important roles for the serotonin 1A receptor. In development, serotonin acts through this receptor to promote development of the circuitry necessary for normal anxiety-like behaviors. In adulthood, serotonin reuptake inhibitors act through the same receptor to stimulate neurogenesis and reduce anxiety-like behaviors. These studies highlight that the complex serotonin system likely plays various roles in the regulation of anxiety both during development and in adulthood.

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