PULLMAN, Wash. - Washington State University researchers have taken a promising step toward creating an animal model for decoding the specific brain circuits involved in depression. By electrically stimulating a brain region central to an animal's primary emotions, graduate student Jason Wright and his advisor Jaak Panksepp saw rats exhibit a variety of behaviors associated with a depressed, negative mood, or affect.
"We might now have a model that allows us to actually know where to look in the brain for changes relevant to depression," says Wright, "and we can monitor how activity in these regions changes as good and bad moods come and go. There are no other models out there like this."
The researchers caution that their work comes with a variety of caveats and that there are still many factors that need to be evaluated.
But while rats aren't humans and can't talk about their emotions, researchers like Panksepp have demonstrated in the past that their emotional behaviors can be valid indicators of their moods. The researchers also believe a focus on specific emotional circuits, shared by all mammals, is an improvement over less specific stressors.
"No one has previously stimulated a specific brain system and produced a depressive cascade," says Panksepp, who has pioneered work in how core emotions stem from deep, ancient parts of the brain. "That is what this paper does."
Their research, published in this month's issue of the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, opens up new avenues of experimentation and treatments by offering a model in which scientists can directly create positive and negative affects with the dependent and independent variables that science relies on.
And with the pandemic of depression in Western society, the researchers say there is a real need for more specific tests focusing on depression-linked emotion networks in a highly controlled fashion.
|Contact: Jaak Panksepp, Washington State University neuroscientist|
Washington State University