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New generation of antidepressants may work faster

By Tim Sandle     Feb 5, 2013 in Health
Scientists have been looking at a new wave of antidepressant medicines that, by focusing on the appropriate target in the brain, may work faster than medications currently available.
The research has been based on studies in mice. The findings suggest that the anesthetic drug ketamine, along with similar compounds, could provide the basis for antidepressants that work in hours instead of weeks.
For the research the neuroscientists first had to make the mice ‘depressed’. Using a technique that makes a nerve cell fire or remain silent by stimulating it with laser light, the scientists were able to create ‘symptoms’ of depression in mice. Then, by focusing on specific brain cells, the scientists were able to deactivate the triggers for depression and the state of the mice improved.
How mice were assessed as depressed was through behavior and a refusal to drink sugared water when offered it. Whether these traits are a similar approximation of what may or may not happen in a person is arguable. However, what the research does reveal is that certain cells within the brain can be altered leading to behavioral changes in animals.
Further studies have shown that the drug ketamine appears to be able to turn off certain triggers that lead to depression in animals. Ketamine is a drug used in human and veterinary medicine, primarily for the induction and maintenance of general anesthesia, usually in combination with a sedative.
Ketamine has too many side effects ever to be used in people (it is the basis of a hallucinogenic drug used by certain clubbers called Special K). However, it may form the basis for new drug development.
Following the research on ketamine, researchers are looking at a similar substance, coded AZD6765, which does not have the same side effects. AZD6765, taps into the brain’s glutamate system (a messenger molecule that triggers nerve cell activity). The problem so far is that then effects of AZD6765 are only short lived.
The findings have been published in the journal Nature.
More about Antidepressants, Depression, Prescription drugs, special k, Ketamine
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