Depression affects almost 15 million adults each year, but treatment is not always effective. Some people experiencing depression avoid treatment, concerned about the costs of new drugs and long-term therapy. Others find that antidepressants either do not work for them or produce side effects almost as serious as the symptoms of depression. Researchers from the University of Maryland say, however, they may have discovered a faster, more effective way to treat depression.
Is GABA the Key to Effective Depression Treatment?
Most researchers who study depression agree that the condition is somehow related to problems with the brain’s neurotransmitters. When these chemicals, which carry messages across a nerve synapse, do not work effectively or are not present in sufficiently high quantities, the chemical messages associated with motivation, reward, and joy are less effective.
Most antidepressants target serotonin, a chemical thought to be associated with mood and motivation, but drugs that target serotonin often take time to work. Serotonin is also associated with bodily functions, which means that drugs that target serotonin may affect parts of the body other than the brain, leading to side effects such as sexual dysfunction, disruption of sleep patterns, apathy, and dizziness.GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This theory of depression emphasizes the role of excitatory messages in the brain. When those messages are not strong enough, depression may be the result. Thus, drugs that reduce the inhibitory power of GABA could also reduce depression. These compounds, called GABA-NAMs, target only the portions of the brain relevant to mood, producing fewer side effects.
A New Type of Antidepressant
To explore the power of GABA-NAMs to affect mood, researchers exposed rats to chronic stress. This exposure caused depression-like symptoms in the rats, but the rats that took GABA-NAMs experienced a decrease in one of depression’s key symptoms: anhedonia, the inability to feel joy. Researchers achieved these results in less than 24 hours. The scientists found that, as expected, GABA-NAMs increased the strength of excitatory brain signals. In animals who did not have symptoms of depression, the drugs produced no results at all, indicating that the compound is not likely to have an adverse effect.
Though rats’ brains are similar to humans, not all studies of rats have produced the same results in humans. Nevertheless, the researchers say that these results offer immense promise for future trials on humans. If these drugs prove safe and effective in human trials, they could eventually revolutionize depression treatment.
- Depression statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_statistics_depression
- Feller, S. (2015, July 13). New compound may treat depression quickly, with few side effects. Retrieved from http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2015/07/13/New-compound-may-treat-depression-quickly-with-few-side-effects/3671436809313
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