“Now is the age of anxiety” (WH Auden. The age of anxiety: a baroque eclogue. Random House, New York 1947).
Although this text has won the Pulitzer Prize more than 60 years ago, it is still highly valid. Anxiety disorders have the highest lifetime prevalence (14-29%) of psychiatric diseases, and often a very early age of onset, thereby imposing an ever-increasing strain on health providers and burden on the economy.
Biologically, fear and anxiety appear to be part of a universal survival strategy, which is generated in anticipation of or in response to stimuli that threaten homeostasis and survival. Perturbations of these systems can lead to prolonged and disproportional states, which in their extreme or pathological forms include panic disorders, phobias, and posttraumatic stress disorders.
Not surprisingly, these states are under control of a hierarchy of neural systems, and both genetic and environmental factors crucially determine inter-individual variations in fear and anxiety, during early development as well as later in life.
The overall aim of the transregional collaborative research center (SFB/TRR58) is to provide a better understanding of the mechanistic basis of fear, anxiety states and related disorders. The center is comprised of scientists from Münster, Hamburg, Mainz, and Würzburg universities, which contribute their expertise to an interdisciplinary collaboration, linking basic and clinical research. This has created the unique opportunity to detect molecular, systems and evolutionary mechanisms of fear, anxiety and anxiety disorders. The center is organized in three research sections, devoted to (A) “Experimental animal studies”, (B) “Human pre-clinical studies”, (C) “Clinical translation and intervention”, and a central project (Z02) focusing on “Functional genomics and gene-by-environment interactions”.