Princeton University researchers have observed a self-degradation response to the antidepressant Zoloft in yeast cells that could help provide new answers to lingering questions among scientists about how antidepressants work, as well as support the idea that depression is not solely linked to the neurotransmitter serotonin. In findings published online on April 18, 2012 in PLoS ONE, researchers based in the lab of Dr. Ethan Perlstein, an associate research scholar in Princeton's Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and senior lecturer in molecular biology, report that sertraline — trademarked as Zoloft — accumulated in the internal membranes of baker's yeast cells. This buildup caused a swelling and sharp curvature in the membranes of vesicles, bubble-like cell components with a hand in cell metabolism, movement, and energy storage. The vesicles then went into autophagy, a protective response in which cells recycle excess or damaged membrane. But yeast cells lack serotonin, which is the primary target of antidepressants, Dr. Perlstein said. By observing a reaction to sertraline in an organism that does not contain the drug's conventional target, Dr. Perlstein and his co-authors have found significant evidence suggesting that antidepressants engage in pharmacological activity beyond regulating serotonin. Dr. Perlstein worked with co-first authors Drs. Jingqui Chen and Daniel Korostyshevsky, as well as Dr. Sean Lee, all three senior research specialists in Dr. Perlstein's lab. Although antidepressants are known to regulate serotonin, it is not completely understood how antidepressants interact with the body's brain cells and what effect, if any, this activity has on treating depression, Dr. Perlstein said.
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