New research from the University of Victoria into what occurs inside a brain’s cells has raised the possibility of new treatments for depression.
Depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide, and is a leading cause of disability and the highest risk factor for suicide.
The research was conducted by UVic neuroscientist Lisa Kalynchuk and her team, doctoral student Josh Allen, post-doctoral fellow Raquel Romay-Tallon, and neuroscientist Hector Caruncho, according to a news release.
The group started their research by studying reelin, a large protein that is responsible for cell-to-cell interactions in the brain. They found that decreased levels of reelin are correlated with increased levels of depressive symptoms in both animals and humans.
“We know reelin is found in the brain, but it’s also found in the immune system, which is itself linked to depression,” said Kalynchuk.
“We also know that certain immune factors are linked to the building blocks of cells, so we began thinking about how activities within individual cells might be implicated in depression.”
The researchers looked to the mitochondria, a component of the cell responsible for providing fuel for everything the cell does. If mitochondria don’t work properly, cells may not be able to produce enough reelin.
The study’s initial findings showed that lab rats suffering from depressive symptoms found immediate relief after an infusion of reelin.
“We’re trying to propose a new neurobiological theory for what causes depression, which can then be used to develop new treatments that will work more quickly, in more patients, and with fewer side-effects,” she said.
The team released their findings in a paper titled, “Mitochondria and Mood: Mitochondrial Dysfunction as a Key Player in the Manifestation of Depression.”
Kalynchuk says further studies will identify other cells and systems tied to depression, which could lead to new treatments such as repairing mitochondria and other cell functions.
That could eventually lead to alternatives to anti-depressant medication, which is effective in only half of people experiencing depression.