A Gene for Feeling Good?
Hello, fellow blog readers, HOW DO YOU FEEL? If you replied with something along the lines of “I FEEL SO GOOD, OH I FEEL SO GOOD!”, we get a clue that you’re probably in a good mood today, you’re a cheerleader or Welcome Week Rep, or you may be a part of a very exclusive 20% of the population that contain a gene mutation, known as the “feel-good gene”(1).
Discovered about 10 years ago, this gene is currently being studied at the Weill Cornell Medical College (1). This genetic variation allows some people to be inherently less anxious than those without the variation, and they do not dwell on any unpleasant experiences (2). This is because the mutation actually produces higher levels of a molecule called anandamide in our brain (2). Anandamide is also known as the “bliss molecule” and is an endogenous cannabinoid, which can bind to various cannabinoid receptors (2,3).
So how exactly does the mutated gene lead to an increased amount of anandamide? The mutation is on the gene that encodes for an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) (2). FAAH is responsible for the catabolism of anandamide in the brain (3). The “feel-good gene” refers to the single nucleotide polymorphism of an allele in the FAAH gene called 385A (4). 385A is correlated with lower levels of FAAH and therefore, those with the 385A allele would have increased levels of anandamide (2).
The clinical relevance of this finding is currently being studied. Researchers are suggesting that those who may suffer from anxiety or post-traumatic disorder may benefit from knowing their genetic makeup for the FAAH gene (1). Cognitive behavioural therapy is often used to prevent post-traumatic disorder to help clients forget their fears more rapidly and to better cope with the stress (1). Understanding one’s genetic composition for the FAAH gene may greatly help a therapist personalize his sessions with his clients. For example, a patient may require significantly more sessions with a therapist compared to those with the feel good gene (1).
What is the future for the feel good gene? A lot more research needs to be done on the gene before it can be considered for pharmaceuticals. Do you think drugs that mimic the effects of the “feel-good gene” would be beneficial? Would they work? We are looking forwards to the answers to our questions as researchers continue to uncover more about this gene mutation.
By Arlinda Deng
1. hereandnow. Scientists Discover More About ‘Feel-Good’ Gene [Internet]. 2015 [cited 19 March 2015]. Available from: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/03/17/feel-good-gene
2. Blogs.scientificamerican.com. N.Y. Times Hype of “Feel-Good Gene” Makes Me Feel Bad | Cross-Check, Scientific American Blog Network [Internet]. 2015 [cited 19 March 2015]. Available from: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2015/03/13/n-y-times-hype-of-feel-good-gene-makes-me-feel-bad/
3. Wise LE, Shelton CC, Cravatt BF, Martin BR, Lichtman AH. Assessment of anandamide’s pharmacological effects in mice deficient of both fatty acid amide hydrolase and cannabinoid CB1 receptors. European Journal of Pharmacology. 2007 Feb;557(1):44–8.
4. Dincheva I, Drysdale AT, Hartley CA, Johnson DC, Jing D, King EC, et al. FAAH genetic variation enhances fronto-amygdala function in mouse and human. Nature Communications. 2015 Mar 3;6:6395.
Image from: http://higherperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/feel-good-hormones.jpg