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Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 00:05 GMT
Anti-depressants 'stimulate cells'
Depressed man
Many people suffer from depression at some point
Continued use of anti-depressants appears to stimulate new cell growth in an area of the brain known to suffer cell death as a result of depression and stress, say scientists.

Depression is estimated to affect up to 17% of the population at some point during their lifetime.


This could explain in part how anti-depressants produce their therapeutic response

Professor Ronald Duman, Yale University
Anti-depressant drugs are commonly prescribed for depression and other related disorders.

However, until now their impact on the cells of the brain has not been clearly understood.

Researchers at Yale University believe they may have gone some way to solving this mystery.

They have discovered that long-term use of anti-depressants is linked to the development of new cells - or neurons - in an area of the brain known as the hippocampus.

The hippocampus plays a role in learning, memory, mood and emotion.

It is one of only a few regions of the brain where new brain cells are created into adulthood.

Several studies have shown that stressful experiences, both physical and psychological, lead to the loss of brain cells in the hippocampus.

Other studies have indicated that use of anti-depressants can block this loss.

Tests

A team led by Professor Ronald Duman, and expert in psychiatry and pharmacology, tested the impact of several different classes of anti-depressant drugs, as well as electroconvulsive seizure therapy (ECS) and an anti-psychotic medication.

ECS is clinically the most effective treatment for cases of depression that are resistant to available drug treatments.

As expected, repeated ECS administration increased the number of neurons in the hippocampus by 50%.

The chemical anti-depressants tested increased the number of neurons in the same area by up to 40%.

No significant effect was measured when the drugs were administered for five days or less.

The number of neurons only increased when the drugs were administered for 14-28 days.

Professor Duman said: "The results of our study demonstrate that anti-depressants can reverse or block further loss of neurons in the hippocampus by increasing new cell growth.

"This could explain in part how anti-depressants produce their therapeutic response."

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See also:

13 Oct 99 | Health
Depression
02 Oct 00 | Health
'Brain link' to manic depression
15 Sep 00 | Health
Biological clue to depression
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