Monday, July 7, 2008

How antidepressants work

What you thought about depression is about to be up-ended.

Recent studies from Yale and Princeton and a university in Italy suggest that depression is a mild neurodegenerative disease. Instead of simply disturbing your brain's neurochemistry, depression destroys neurons. (This is bad for the 10% of people in the United States who are depressed.)

Antidepressants work depending on each individual's neurochemistry, but they supposedly perform another function: they prevent neurons from dying. My question is - how do the neurons die? What biochemical trigger makes them die? If we dissected the brains of a happy rat and a depressed rat, what would we find? Loss of neurons has been already found in the hippocampus - so maybe SSRIs help protect the hippocampus.

The gamut of drugs for already-identified neurodegenerative diseases is acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, NMDA receptor inhibitors, L-dopa (dopamine), dopa decarboxylase inhibitors, dopamine agonists, MAO-B inhibitors, MAOIs, and other drugs. MAO inhibitors are a class of antidepressant reserved for those cases that cannot be treated with other antidepressants, and antidepressants and antipsychotics are used to decrease symptoms of depression and psychosis in people with neurodegenerative diseases.

Depression is a disorder which contains some wacky brain chemistry, which would no doubt kill a few neurons. The neurotransmitters affected in depression are serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine (the catecholamines), and possibly GABA and glutamate. A lot of brains also secrete excess amounts of MAO-As, where the MAOIs come into play.

As we further understand the processes of neuronal death in depression, treatment will advance. Some treatments for more advanced neurodegenerative disease might, in small doses, cure depression.

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Anonymous said...

Hey I am really sorry because this post is way way way old but I was wondering if you could please post the references to the articles supporting this theory of depression. Hope you don't mind. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

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