Brain Chemistry Discovery Could Lead to New Anti-Depressant Treatment
Depression is a problem for around 10 percent of all Americans. Current anti-depressant medications rely on serotonin reuptake inhibitors which take weeks to reach efficacy levels and are not reliably effective for all patients. Many are ready for a different kind of anti-depressant medication, and European research may be on the cusp of finding one.
The study by researchers from Hungary, Sweden and the United Kingdom focused on the role of a brain chemical called galanin, a neuropeptide that was first isolated three decades ago. Though not a new discovery, it works to protect a person against depression is a new discovery.
Tomas Hökfelt, the Swedish researcher who first identified galanin, is one of the senior authors of the new study which uncovered how the protein works within the brain. The key discovery in this case has been that neurons release peptide-transmitter pairs. Galanin and noradrenaline form a pair and both substances are recognized as having a role in stress which often means depression as well.
European investigators found that galanin as a stress mechanism has a lot to do with how susceptible a person may be to developing depression. The lead author in the study was Dr. Gabriella Juhasz, research fellow at Hungary’s Semmelweis University and at the University of Manchester, England. Juhasz says that the team’s research reveals how gene coding of galanin can work to guard a person against anxiety and depression. However, galanin only acts protectively in people who experienced trauma or neglect during early life, or those who have just recently undergone some kind of adversity.
Galanin works through the receptors of three different genes which are located in different chromosomal locales. Yet all of these genes are implicated in protection against depression in those who’ve had young life difficulty or recent trauma. Galanin is the unifying factor in the way four genes affect resiliency. The odds against this being a random occurrence are great.
The researchers say that their investigation demonstrates how galanin is far more influential than serotonin in overcoming vulnerability to depression. Depression is affected by environmental stress factors, heredity and multiple chemical interactions in addition to the peptide pairings within the brain. Still, there is great expectation that new medications which affect galanin could be more effective than current serotonin-based drugs.