Current Research into Depression
Behind the major news stories, researchers continue to go about the business of finding the answers that will lead to a cure for depression. Regardless of the political climate, and in spite of inconsistent funding, scientists keep plugging away. Piece by piece, the puzzle is coming together.
A Model for Depression
No, this isn't a chance to try out your “runway strut.” This kind of model is like a roadmap, but it's a three-dimensional one. Before the invention of the microchip, if a scientist wanted to construct a 3-D model of something, there was a lot of stuff involved — wire, plastic, tape — all the things that you remember from that science class. Now, there's software. With the click of the mouse, wonderful images appear on the computer screen, and these images can be rotated, superimposed, turned inside out. As scientists study those neurotransmitters and the role they play in depression, those computer models come in really handy.
A Study of Note
At the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), a team of researchers, led by Dr. Jeffrey Meyer, wanted to understand how the chemical imbalance that occurs in major depression worked. Scientists already believed that monoamine levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain decreased during episodes of major depression; but they didn't know why. Meyer and his team discovered that elevated enzyme levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) was responsible. This explained why different people who suffered from depression lost brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine at different rates. This led to a new monoamine model of depression. Now that they know what's involved, the next step is to find out why. (If you'd like to see what the model looks like, go to
Neurogenesis is a process by which adult brain stem cells self-renew and maintain themselves. Researchers are now studying the complex relationship between specific diseases, such as depression and neurogenesis. Remember the hippocampus? That's the area of your brain that's involved here. Since chronic and acute stress decrease neurogenesis, it makes sense that in people suffering from depression, these cells aren't developing as much, according to Fred Gage of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Decreasing your stress, exercising, having a complex physical environment, and continuing to learn, can help increase neurogenesis. That's good for you!
Paul Greengard, working at the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at the Rockefeller University, has discovered a protein called P11. He believes P11 may be a key determinant in whether or not people become depressed. He and his team of researchers determined that if they lowered levels of P11 in animals, the animals became depressed. If they raised P11 levels, the depression eased. There are many areas they'll be exploring, and one of them is to see whether P11 levels in the blood can be used as a biomarker for depression. They'll be working with P11 at the genetic level in future studies (see
A biomarker is used to indicate or measure a biological process. Biomarkers can be levels of certain proteins in the blood. Finding the biomarker may be an indication that an individual either has a specific disease or is at risk of developing that disease with which the marker is associated.
Faster-Acting Antidepressants May Be Coming Soon
Antidepressants are generally quite effective in treating the symptoms of depression, but they can take weeks to reach optimal levels in your system. In severe cases, where an individual is suicidal, this can result in life-threatening situations. In chronic cases, it results in added misery. A new study has found that ketamine can relieve the symptoms of depression within hours. Ketamine has side effects — such as hallucinations — that will keep it from being used as an antidepressant, but its success will send researchers off in a specific direction now, striving to repeat ketamine's successes without having to deal with its side effects. The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), appeared online in