For the first time in a human model, scientists have discovered how anti-depressants make new brain cells. This implies that researchers can now develop better and more efficient drugs to combat depression. Previous studies have shown that anti-depressants make new brain cells, however, until now it was not known how they did it. In a study published online on April 12, 2011, in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, show that anti-depressants regulate the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) - a key protein involved in the stress response. Moreover, the study shows that all types of anti-depressant are dependent on the GR to create new cells. Depression is expected to be the second leading burden of disease worldwide by the year 2020. Recent studies have demonstrated that depressed patients show a reduction in a process called ‘neurogenesis,’ that is, a reduction in the development of new brain cells. This reduced neurogenesis may contribute to the debilitating psychological symptoms of depression, such as low mood or impaired memory. With as much as half of all depressed patients failing to improve with currently available treatments, developing new effective anti-depressant treatment still remains a great challenge, which makes it crucial to identify new potential mechanisms to target. The Laboratory of Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology (SPI-lab) at King's has been looking into the role of the GR in depression for a number of years. In this study, scientists used human hippocampal stem cells, the source of new cells in the human brain, as a new model to investigate, 'in a dish,' the effects of anti-depressants on brain cells.
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