Serotonin circuits and anxiety: what can invertebrates teach us?

Invert Neurosci. 2012 Dec;12(2):81-92. doi: 10.1007/s10158-012-0140-y. Epub 2012 Aug 24.


Fear, a reaction to a threatening situation, is a broadly adaptive feature crucial to the survival and reproductive fitness of individual organisms. By contrast, anxiety is an inappropriate behavioral response often to a perceived, not real, threat. Functional imaging, biochemical analysis, and lesion studies with humans have identified the HPA axis and the amygdala as key neuroanatomical regions driving both fear and anxiety. Abnormalities in these biological systems lead to misregulated fear and anxiety behaviors such as panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorders. These behaviors are often treated by increasing serotonin levels at synapses, suggesting a role for serotonin signaling in ameliorating both fear and anxiety. Interestingly, serotonin signaling is highly conserved between mammals and invertebrates. We propose that genetically tractable invertebrate models organisms, such as Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans, are ideally suited to unravel the complexity of the serotonin signaling pathways. These model systems possess well-defined neuroanatomies and robust serotonin-mediated behavior and should reveal insights into how serotonin can modulate human cognitive functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Invertebrates
  • Models, Animal*
  • Neural Pathways / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / metabolism*


  • Serotonin