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Neuroscientists find overlooked brain area is an important locus of depression
Date:2/23/2011

Cold Spring Harbor, NY -- A team of neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and UC San Diego (UCSD) has collected evidence suggesting that a previously overlooked portion of the brain could be a prime locus of human depression.

In two rat models of human depression, the scientists have demonstrated that neurons in a tiny area in the central brain called the lateral habenula (LHb) are hyperactive.

Specifically, as the team reports today online ahead of print in the journal Nature, excitatory synaptic inputs onto neurons in the LHb are enhanced in "depressed" animals, a finding they regard significant because this excitation in turn causes the inhibition of "downstream targets" -- including neurons in a part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), important in the brain's reward system and heavily populated by dopamine neurons.

Furthermore, the team, which includes Professor Fritz Henn of CSHL and BNL and Assistant Professor Bo Li of CSHL, as well as Professor Roberto Malinow of UCSD, was able to use an analog of deep brain stimulation (DBS), a novel form of electrical stimulation involving the implantation of electrodes into a specific brain area, to reverse depression-like symptoms in the rats.

DBS is an important new experimental modality of treatment for refractory depression in people, as well as a potentially important approach to treat other neurophysiological disorders, most notably Parkinson's disease. The team's results point to the LHb as a potential therapeutic target for DBS. A series of ongoing experiments in depression at other laboratories, which have shown promise in a small number of human patients, have used DBS to target an area of the cingulate cortex called Brodman's Area 25. Henn and colleagues in Germany last year reported success in treating one case of intractable human depression with DBS, targeting the LHb.

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Contact: Peter Tarr
tarr@cshl.edu
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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