Brain scans taken at different times of year suggest that the actions of the serotonin transporterinvolved in regulating the mood-altering neurotransmitter serotoninvary by season, according to a report in the September issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. These fluctuations may potentially explain seasonal affective disorder and related mood changes.
"It is a common experience in temperate zones that individuals feel happier and more energetic on bright and sunny days and many experience a decline in mood and energy during the dark winter season," the authors write as background information in the article. This is thought to be related to variations in brain levels of serotonin, which is involved in the regulation of functions such as mating, feeding, energy balance and sleep. The serotonin transporter, a protein that binds to serotonin and clears it from the spaces between brain cells, "is a key element in regulating intensity and spread of the serotonin signal."
Nicole Praschak-Rieder, M.D., and Matthaeus Willeit, M.D., of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and colleagues studied 88 healthy individuals (average age 33) between 1999 and 2003. Participants underwent one positron emission tomography (PET) scan to assess serotonin transporter binding potential value, an index of serotonin transporter density. The higher the binding potential value, the less serotonin circulates in the brain. For the analysis, individual scans were grouped according to the season of the scanfall and winter or spring and summer.
"Serotonin transporter binding potential values were significantly higher in all investigated brain regions in individuals investigated in the fall and winter compared with those investigated in the spring and summer," the authors write. When they matched binding potential values to meteorological data, the researchers found that
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