Depressed loner mice become more sociable when a memory molecule is
deleted from their brain, suggesting that memory-erasing treatments
could ease depression in humans.
This molecular therapy worked about as well as giving mice antidepressants, the researchers report today in the journal Science.
The finding might help treat human ills like social phobia and post-traumatic stress, the scientists say.
targeted a molecule in a section of the brain known to be related to
sensations of pleasure and danger, says Dr Olivier Berton of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, one of the report’s authors.
focused on this molecule in a region of the brain that people call the
reward pathway, which people have studied a lot in relation to drugs
that are abused," he says.
Deleting the molecule from this part
of the brain meant that the mice were never depressed and fearful,
Berton says, even though conditions were set up that normally would
make them run and hide.
"If we can identify such mechanisms in
the brain, that’s a way to develop antidepressants that work faster and
in more people," Berton says.
Depressed mice become withdrawn
carry out the experiment, Berton and his colleagues had to find a way
to reliably make mice depressed. They did this by putting ordinarily
sociable mice in cages with aggressive, bullying mice.
sociable mice regularly fought with the bullies, and over a period of
days became withdrawn and fearful of strange mice. Even when the
bullies were removed, the depression stayed.
They perked up when dosed with antidepressants for a month, Berton says.
the molecule involved anesthetising the mice, then injecting this very
specific part of their brains with a virus that disables the molecule.
This kind of technique has been used experimentally in research into Parkinson’s disease, Berton says.
An alternate to antidepressants?
result in mice was to block the typically depressed response to
bullying, mimicking the response to chronic antidepressant therapy.
The next step is to record the electrical activity of brain cells in the reward pathway, Berton says.
trying to understand this response to stress from the molecular to the
cellular to the neural circuit level of understanding," he says.