Anxiety and Epigenetics

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017:978:145-166. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-53889-1_8.


Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent psychiatric disorders often comorbid with depression and substance abuse. Twin studies have shown that anxiety disorders are moderately heritable. Yet, genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have failed to identify gene(s) significantly associated with diagnosis suggesting a strong role for environmental factors and the epigenome. A number of anxiety disorder subtypes are considered "stress related." A large focus of research has been on the epigenetic and anxiety-like behavioral consequences of stress. Animal models of anxiety-related disorders have provided strong evidence for the role of stress on the epigenetic control of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and of stress-responsive brain regions. Neuroepigenetics may continue to explain individual variation in susceptibility to environmental perturbations and consequently anxious behavior. Behavioral and pharmacological interventions aimed at targeting epigenetic marks associated with anxiety may prove fruitful in developing treatments.

Keywords: Amygdala; Anxiety; DNA methylation; Epigenetic; Glucocorticoid; Hippocampus; Histone; Noncoding RNA; Plasticity; Prefrontal cortex; Stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / physiology
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / genetics*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Child
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Inheritance Patterns
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Twin Studies as Topic


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents