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Antidepressants need new nerve cells to be effective, UT Southwestern researchers find

DALLAS Aug. 28, 2008 Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have discovered in mice that the brain must create new nerve cells for either exercise or antidepressants to reduce depression-like behavior.

In addition, the researchers found that antidepressants and exercise use the same biochemical pathway to exert their effects.

These results might help explain some unknown mechanisms of antidepressants and provide a new direction for developing drugs to treat depression, said Dr. Luis Parada, chairman of developmental biology and senior author of a study in the Aug. 14 issue of the journal Neuron.

In animals, it was already known that long-term treatment with antidepressants causes new nerve cells to be generated in a part of the brain called the dentate gyrus. Exercise, which can also relieve the symptoms of depression, stimulates the generation of new nerve cells in the same area.

"We would never claim that what we study in mice directly relates to how antidepressants work in humans, but there are interesting features in parallel," Dr. Parada said. "The study unifies different observations that point to the brain's dentate gyrus region and to creation of nerve cells as being important in depression."

Antidepressants act very quickly to increase levels of natural compounds, called neurotransmitters, which nerve cells use to communicate. It takes several weeks to several months, however, for the patients who respond to such treatments to feel less depressed. Dr. Parada said this implies that some other long-term mechanism is also at work.

The current study was designed to test several phenomena that have long been observed in animal studies but have not been studied together to see if they are linked, Dr. Parada said.

The researchers focused on a molecule called TrkB, or Track-B, which is found on the surface of nerve cells and responds to several growth factors to cause ne

Contact: Aline McKenzie
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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Antidepressants need new nerve cells to be effective, UT Southwestern researchers find
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