In a study that was recently published on the Molecular Psychiatry website and currently is featured in the journal Cell/Stem Cell, studies conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins have identified a protein that may be the target of antidepressant medications like Paxil and electroconvulsive therapy.
Experiments by researchers have shown how both of these therapy types work in treating depression by stimulating the brain’s stem cells, causing them to mature. The researchers also believe that their experiments may aid in predicting an individual person’s reaction to depression treatments, which should help doctors to develop more fine-tuned therapy.
“Previous studies have shown that antidepressants and electroconvulsive therapy both activate neural stem cells in the adult brain to divide and form new neurons,” says Hongjun Song, Ph.D., a professor of neurology and director of the Stem Cell Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Institute for Cell Engineering. “What we’re [sic] missing were the specific molecules linking antidepressant treatment and stem cell activation.”
Finding the right way to treat depression has been an uphill battle for most doctors. Generally patients are given various different antidepressant medications of varying dosages as a means of trying to find the right way to make the symptoms of the condition ebb. The problem with this guessing-game method of treatment is that the patients are often exposed the side effects linked to such drugs. For example, SSRI medications (Paxil, Effexor), which are currently the most popular prescription given for depression, have been linked to serious side effects including violent and suicidal thoughts and behavior as well as birth defects in babies whose mothers take the drugs while pregnant (PPHN, spina bifida, neural tube defects and oral clefts). With any luck, this new study may finally provide a respite for patients looking for the right treatment for their depression that isn’t riskier than the condition is.