An understanding of depression has been an onerous task as a variety of factors often lead to development of the condition. Furthermore, effective treatment strategies range from psychotherapy to pharmaceuticals.
Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have identified one unifying principle that could explain how a range of causes and treatments for depression converge.
They found that in rats the differing mechanisms of depression and its treatment in the end appear to funnel through a single brain circuit.
Changes in how the electrical signals spread through the circuit appear to be the cause of depression-related behavior, according to their study.
Their findings will be published in Science Express, the advance online publication of the journal Science.
“I think this will help us make sense of how there can be so many different causes and treatments of depression,” said senior author Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
“It also helps us understand conceptually how something that seems as hard to get traction on as depression can have a really quantitative, concrete basis.”
The work also may have implications for the search for new treatments for depression. “You can use that common pathway as the most efficient, most direct targeted way to find truly specific treatments,” he said.
Deisseroth, who sees many depressed patients in clinic, said he has come to appreciate how the bumps in the road that most people see as normal obstacles in life become insurmountable hurdles to depressed people, causing them to lapse into helplessness.
“The holy grail of psychiatry is to try to find final common pathways that can make sense of how genes and life experiences end up with the same result,” said Deisseroth.
“And the same goes for medications. There are many treatments that act in fundamentally different ways – how do we make sense of all that complexity”.
Deisseroth predicted that, as noninvasive imaging of human brains gets better in the next few years, researchers will be able to measure these same quantitative measures in people as well.
“That will be a wonderful thing when that happens,” he said.
Source: Stanford University