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article imageNew approach to antidepressant via drug discovery

By Tim Sandle     Jan 19, 2017 in Science
Helsinki - A new molecule has proved promising in laboratory test in relation to antidepressant therapy. This relates to a better understanding as to how the brain regulates depression and anxiety.
One of the differences between psychology and psychiatry, in simplistic terms, is whether roots causes for alterations in mood are due to the way the brain learns and thought processes or due to physical alterations to the brain, to be understood from the medical perspective. The research comes from the psychiatric field and is based on anxiety and depression being complex disorders that involve multiple brain regions and feedback loops.
The research into the brain mechanisms begun using viruses and the new molecule are based on studies using rodents. The research has been led by Eleanor Coffey, Research Director at Åbo Akademi University in Finland.
Beginning with the viral work, Professor Coffey’s research began with using virus tools to identify where in the brain a particular inhibitor acts in order to improve mood. The inhibitor is called JNK (or -Jun N-terminal kinase). The viral work was based on engineered retroviruses.
READ MORE: CHECK OUT OUR TOP STORY ON ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
The viral research pinpointed a molecule that functions to alleviate anxiety and depression by controlling newly born nerve cells in a region of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that controls emotions. This region also plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation.
Taking this knowledge and running studies in mice, the researchers found when the JNK protein is active it represses the generation of new neurons. By inhibiting nerve the scientists were able to alleviate anxiety and depressive behaviour in mice. The mechanism had not previously been reported on and it could represent a therapeutic breakthrough.
By using JNK, or something similar, a new approach for anti-depressant and anxiolytic drug development could occur. This might be especially useful for patients who do not respond to current treatments.
The research findings have been peer-reviewed and they are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. The paper is called “JNK1 controls adult hippocampal neurogenesis and imposes cell-autonomous control of anxiety behaviour from the neurogenic niche.”
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