Lei awarded five-year, $1.5 million R01 grant from NIMH to study anxiety

Saobo Lei, Ph.D., professor in the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Department of Biomedical Sciences, has been awarded a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The prestigious R01 class grant, which is funded through the National Institute of Mental Health, will be used to explore new therapies for anxiety disorders in humans.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric disorders affecting as many as 20 million American people today. Unfortunately, current first-line pharmaceutical treatments for anxiety are effective for only 50 to 60 percent of patients, and achieve full remission of anxiety in less than one-third of people taking them. Furthermore, most available medications, such as the class of pharmaceuticals known as benzodiazepines, have side effects and can create dependence in users.

Having studied anxiety and related neurological conditions for more than a decade, Dr. Lei is hoping his lab might discover a new way of treating or preventing such disorders.

“Our long-term goal with this grant is to explore novel mechanisms by which therapeutic strategies for anxiety disorders can be developed,” noted Dr. Lei. “Accumulating evidence indicates an important role for vasopressin, or AVP, in anxiety. Among other effects, AVP interacts with a class of receptors known as V1aRs that, when activated, contribute to the symptoms of what we call anxiety.”

While the roles of V1aRs in anxiety have been established, the ways and means by which activation of these receptors exert anxiety-inducing effects have not been determined, said Lei. The objective of this proposal is to determine those ways and means.

“This research is innovative because it will define the cellular and molecular mechanisms whereby V1aR activation contributes to anxiety,” Lei concluded. “Understanding these would stimulate the development and uses of drugs targeting V1aRs for the treatment of anxiety.”