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Novel pharmacological targets in drug development for the treatment of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders

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Current medication for anxiety disorders is suboptimal in terms of efficiency and tolerability, highlighting the need for improved drug treatments. In this review an overview of drugs being studied in different phases of clinical trials for their potential in the treatment of fear-, anxiety- and trauma-related disorders is presented. One strategy followed in drug development is refining and improving compounds interacting with existing anxiolytic drug targets, such as serotonergic and prototypical GABAergic benzodiazepines. A more innovative approach involves the search for compounds with novel mechanisms of anxiolytic action using the growing knowledge base concerning the relevant neurocircuitries and neurobiological mechanisms underlying pathological fear and anxiety. The target systems evaluated in clinical trials include glutamate, endocannabinoid and neuropeptide systems, as well as ion channels and targets derived from phytochemicals. Examples of promising novel candidates currently in clinical development for generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder include ketamine, riluzole, xenon with one common pharmacological action of modulation of glutamatergic neurotransmission, as well as the neurosteroid aloradine. Finally, compounds such as D-cycloserine, MDMA, L-DOPA and cannabinoids have shown efficacy in enhancing fear-extinction learning in humans. They are thus investigated in clinical trials as an augmentative strategy for speeding up and enhancing the long-term effectiveness of exposure-based psychotherapy, which could render chronic anxiolytic drug treatment dispensable for many patients. These efforts are indicative of a rekindled interest and renewed optimism in the anxiety drug discovery field, after decades of relative stagnation.

Sartori, S. B., & Singewald, N. (2019). Novel pharmacological targets in drug development for the treatment of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 107402., 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2019.107402
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