An Indo-American team studying the brain of genetically engineered mice has found out why some people under treatment// for depression are driven to commit suicide.
All antidepressant medications sold in the US are required to carry a warning that use of these drugs "increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behaviour." The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made this warning mandatory two years ago on the basis of short-term clinical studies in children and adolescents.
Now, for the first time, research led by Sumantra (Shona) Chattarji of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore has provided a molecular basis for this connection between treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts.
In their report published in the prestigious Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences they claim to have identified a "chameleon" like molecule in the brain that plays contrasting roles depending on which area of the brain it is present.
The researchers found that the molecule, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), lowers depression when present in "hippocampus," a part of the brain located inside the temporal lobe. But the same molecule increased the anxiety levels when present in another region called "amygdala", an almond-shaped structure near the hippocampus.
The discovery of opposing roles for the same molecule in two different parts of the brain took the researchers by surprise.
"Ours is also the first finding, at the cellular level, to show that low depression and high anxiety can coexist in the brain," Chattarji, who is an international fellow of the Wellcome Trust, told IANS.
The team observed this "paradoxical co-existence" while studying the effect of chronic stress on the two regions (hippocampus and amygdala) of the brain in "transgenic" mice that had been genetically engineered to overproduce BDNF.
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