Although medications exist to treat depression, many scientists aren’t sure why they’re effective and why they don’t work for everyone.
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine believe they may have found a key to the puzzle of major depression that could lead to therapies for those who don’t respond to medications already on the market.
A new study by the researchers has identified the central role a gene known as Slc6a15 plays in either protecting from stress or contributing to depression, depending on its level of activity in a part of the brain associated with motivation, pleasure and reward seeking.
Published in the Journal of Neuroscience in July, the study is the first to illuminate in detail how the gene “works in a kind of neuron that plays a key role in depression,” according to the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Specifically, the researchers found that mice with depression had reduced levels of the gene’s activity, while those with high levels of the gene’s activity handled chronic stress better.
Though senior researcher Mary Kay Lobo’s primary studies were done with mice, she also examined the brains of people who had committed suicide and found reduced levels of the gene’s activity, confirming a likely link.
She hopes now that drugs could be developed that would encourage the gene’s activity.
“I thought it was fascinating we had this system in place that allows us to go after things or be motivated or have pleasure and I was interested in how it becomes dysfunctional in certain diseases like depression,” Lobo said. “I hope that we can identify molecules that could potentially be therapeutically treated or targeted to treat depression.”
Lobo and her colleagues have been examining the gene for years. In 2006, they discovered that it was more common among specific neurons in the brain that they later…