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Prozac Makes Old Brain Cells Young
Date:4/17/2008

Research may explain antidepressants' effectiveness

THURSDAY, April 17 (HealthDay News) -- The antidepressant Prozac has been shown to restore old brain cells to their more plastic youthful condition in animal experiments, researchers report.

The work not only provides a possible new explanation for the antidepressant activity of the medication but also raises the distant prospect that it could be used to treat other conditions caused by malfunction of brain cells, said study lead author Jose Fernando Maya Vetencourt.

"It suggests potential clinical applications for the drug in different pathologies," said Vetencourt, a researcher in neurobiology at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy. One of them is amblyopia, the "lazy eye" condition in which one eye is weaker than the other, because it was not used enough in early childhood, he said.

It's much too early to say when, whether or how Prozac, whose generic name is fluoxetine, could be used in such treatments, Vetencourt said. It's also too early to say whether other members of the chemical family of antidepressants to which Prozac belongs have the same youth-restoring ability, or whether other antidepressants do the same thing, he said.

"All this needs to be validated in animal models," Vetencourt said. His study colleagues, who included researchers in Finland, have begun to study "the expression of genes which may be correlated to the functional changes," he said.

The findings were published in the April 17 issue of the journal Science.

Amblyopia was listed as a possible target, because the experiments were aimed at the brain cells governing vision. Vetencourt and his colleagues gave regular doses of Prozac to adult rats whose vision had been impaired by lack of exposure to visual images at a critical period in their early development. Tests showed changes in brain protein expression and electrical signaling typical of
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