Scientific breakthrough could significantly alter the treatment of depression

Depression affects approximately one in 10 adult Americans. Now researchers say they may have a powerful treament

Published April 25, 2014 3:58PM (EDT)


Researchers from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center announced that they've made an important breakthrough in the treatment of depression. Their research was recently published in the scientific journal Molecular Psychiatry.

According to Medical News Today, "they have uncovered an important mechanism by which ghrelin -- a natural antidepressant hormone -- works inside the brain." Additionally they discovered a neuroprotective drug, which has the potential to be a powerful depression treatment.

The researchers, including Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, an associate professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at UT Southwestern, looked at levels of gherlin in mice. Gherlin is known as the "hunger hormone," due to its role in arousing appetite. In 2008, Zigman found that when gherlin levels rose, due to prolonged stress or restricted caloric intake, it worked as a natural antidepressant.

Their latest study adds to those findings. According to Medical News Today:

"In this latest study, the researchers found that the hormone can trigger the formation of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, in the hippocampus - the brain region that regulates mood, memory and complex eating behaviors.

Furthermore, they found that this process is imperative to reduce the severity of depression after prolonged stress exposure."

Next the researchers wanted to know if this antidepressant effect could be enhanced by another compound known as P7C3. Studies have shown that P7C3 can help people with Parkinson's or traumatic brain injury, but could it help people suffering from depression?

Researchers found that gherlin's neurogenesis properties were enhanced by P7C3, creating a strong antidepressant effect.

"By investigating the way the so-called 'hunger hormone' ghrelin works to limit the extent of depression following long-term exposure to stress, we discovered what could become a brand new class of antidepressant drugs," Dr. Zingman said in a statement.

Thus far the study -- and potential treatments that could arise from it -- would only be applicable to depression associated with chronic stress, or other gherlin-resistant conditions. The team hopes to apply its findings to other forms of depression, and run clinical trials to see if P7C3 compounds can be used to treat patients with "major depressive disorder."

h/t Medical News Today

By Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email

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