Study Suggests the Brain May Be Able to Remember Past Patient Reactions to Antidepressants

By April 6, 2012 Uncategorized

A new study that was published online in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology is suggesting that it a patient’s past use of antidepressant medications like Paxil and Effexor may be remembered by the brain when it is used in the present. This memory may, in fact, help in choosing the right medications to use.

It is no secret that depression is generally a recurring condition that develops more than once during a person’s life. Because of that, a lot of patients will be prescribed antidepressant medications like Paxil or Effexor as a treatment for it. Knowing this, the researchers of this study decided to see if it was possible for the brain to recall past antidepressant use and adapt a “learned” reaction to the drugs that is similar to how the brain responded to previous uses of a drug.

During this study, the researchers analyzed the echoes left by older treatments. They did this by giving patients placebos instead of real antidepressants like Paxil and Effexor. The researchers tested the brain changes in approximately 89 patients who were suffering from depression over an eight-week treatment period. The patients were either given placebos or antidepressants. Researchers then started to make comparisons between the two different treatments. As an added twist, the researchers decided to examine separately the data for patients who had taken antidepressants like Paxil or Effexor before and the patients who had never taken antidepressants.

For this study, psychologist Dr. Aimee Hunter worked with other researchers from UCLA. They wanted to prove that the placebo — which they told patients was an actual antidepressant — can “trick the brain into responding in the same manner as the actual medication” in those who had taken an antidepressant before.

What Hunter and her colleagues discovered was that the patients who had never taken an antidepressant before displayed “large increases in prefrontal brain activity during placebo treatment. But those who had used antidepressant medication in the past showed slight decreases in prefrontal activity — brain changes that were indistinguishable from those produced by the actual drug.”

Antidepressant medications like Paxil and Effexor have been found to cause serious side effects including birth defects to babies exposed to the drug in-utero. Some of those side effects include PPHN, cleft palate and neural tube defects. Pregnant women should consult with their doctors before taking or stopping these medications.