The Human Ortholog of Acid-Sensing Ion Channel Gene ASIC1a Is Associated With Panic Disorder and Amygdala Structure and Function


      Individuals with panic disorder (PD) exhibit a hypersensitivity to inhaled carbon dioxide, possibly reflecting a lowered threshold for sensing signals of suffocation. Animal studies have shown that carbon dioxide–mediated fear behavior depends on chemosensing of acidosis in the amygdala via the acid-sensing ion channel ASIC1a. We examined whether the human ortholog of the ASIC1a gene, ACCN2, is associated with the presence of PD and with amygdala structure and function.


      We conducted a case-control analysis (n = 414 PD cases and 846 healthy controls) of ACCN2 single nucleotide polymorphisms and PD. We then tested whether variants showing significant association with PD are also associated with amygdala volume (n = 1048) or task-evoked reactivity to emotional stimuli (n = 103) in healthy individuals.


      Two single nucleotide polymorphisms at the ACCN2 locus showed evidence of association with PD: rs685012 (odds ratio = 1.32, gene-wise corrected p = .011) and rs10875995 (odds ratio = 1.26, gene-wise corrected p = .046). The association appeared to be stronger when early-onset (age ≤ 20 years) PD cases and when PD cases with prominent respiratory symptoms were compared with controls. The PD risk allele at rs10875995 was associated with increased amygdala volume (p = .035) as well as task-evoked amygdala reactivity to fearful and angry faces (p = .0048).


      Genetic variation at ACCN2 appears to be associated with PD and with amygdala phenotypes that have been linked to proneness to anxiety. These results support the possibility that modulation of acid-sensing ion channels may have therapeutic potential for PD.

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