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The Role of Glutamate in Anxiety and Related Disorders

  • Bernadette M. Cortese and K. Luan Phan

Anxiety, stress, and trauma-related disorders are a major public health concern in the United States. Drugs that target the γ-aminobutyric acid or serotonergic system, such as benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, respectively, are the most widely prescribed treatments for these disorders. However, the role of glutamate in anxiety disorders is becoming more recognized with the belief that drugs that modulate glutamatergic function through either ionotropic or metabotropic glutamate receptors have the potential to improve the current treatment of these severe and disabling illnesses. Animal models of fear and anxiety have provided a method to study the role of glutamate in anxiety. This research has demonstrated that drugs that alter glutamate transmission have potential anxiolytic action for many different paradigms including fear-potentiated startle, punished responding, and the elevated plus maze. Human clinical drug trials have demonstrated the efficacy of glutamatergic drugs for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia. Recent data from magnetic resonance imaging studies provide an additional link between the glutamate system and anxiety. Collectively, the data suggest that future studies on the mechanism of and clinical efficacy of glutamatergic agents in anxiety disorders are appropriately warranted.

Corresponding author
Please direct all correspondence to: K. Luan Phan, MD, University of Chicago, Department of Psychiatry, 5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC3077 (L-466C), Chicago, IL 60637-1470; E-mail:
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