Dateline Iowa and Texas: new research on depression might lead to new treatments down the road. Protecting new neurons reduces depression caused by stress. According to this University of Iowa press release, the researchers
focused on understanding the relationship between depression, the gut hormone ghrelin, and the survival of newborn neurons in the hippocampus, the brain region involved in mood, memory, and eating behaviors.
The hippocampus is one of the few regions in the adult brain where new neurons are continually produced – a process known as neurogenesis. Certain neurological diseases, including depression, interfere with neurogenesis by causing death of these new neurons, leading to a net decrease in the number of new neurons produced in the hippocampus.
Ghrelin, which is produced mainly by the stomach and is best known for its ability to stimulate appetite, also acts as a natural antidepressant. […]
[The research team] showed that disrupted neurogenesis is a contributing cause of depression induced by chronic stress, and that ghrelin’s antidepressant effect works through the hormone’s ability to enhance neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Specifically, ghrelin helps block the death of these newborn neurons that otherwise occurs with depression-inducing stress. Importantly, the study also shows that the new “P7C3-class” of neuroprotective compounds, which bolster neurogenesis in the hippocampus, are powerful, fast-acting antidepressants in an animal model of stress-induced depression.
P7C3 compounds have also shown promise in treatment of other neurodegenerative conditions.
We don’t know how significant this research will be for depression sufferers, or when or if such treatments might become available. But we are always happy to hear about new research that broadens our understanding of depression and has the potential to improve lives someday.