New Depression Drugs Looming Near the Horizon

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The word ghrelin may become as familiar to those with depression as the words serotonin or dopamine.

Ghrelin is a hormone produced in our stomach and intestines. It has a variety of functions, including appetite stimulation, and researchers have found it also has anti-depressant properties.

About Ghrelin

The antidepressant action of ghrelin kicks in when its levels increase because of long-term mental stress or calorie restriction (ghrelin is sometimes called the “hunger hormone”). Recent experiments show that in adult animal subjects, ghrelin stimulates neurogenesis, or the forming of new neurons, within the hippocampus—a brain area involved in memory, mood regulation, and complex eating patterns.

The investigators found that regeneration of neurons in the hippocampus is of primary importance in limiting the severity of depression after a period of stress. “By investigating the way ghrelin works...we discovered what could become a brand-new class of anti-depressant drugs,” said researcher Dr. Jeffrey Zigman.

Enhancing the Hormone

After figuring out that ghrelin fights depression by promoting neurogenesis, the researchers wondered if they could enhance ghrelin’s effects with a class of brain-protective compounds called P7C3 (no relation to C-3PO). Subsequent experiments showed that P7C3—as a powerful stimulator of neurogenesis—has a significant antidepressant effect.

“Also exciting, a highly active P7C3 analog [similar drug] was able to quickly enhance neurogenesis to a much greater level than a wide spectrum of currently marketed antidepressant drugs,” said researcher Dr. Andrew Pieper.

The study’s results suggest that people who are depressed because of chronic stress or ghrelin related weight problems (e.g., obesity, anorexia) may be helped by treatments of neuro-protective agents such as P7C3.

Coming Next

Future studies will try to determine whether P7C3 compounds are effective with specific types of depression (e.g., major depression, dysthymia, bipolar depression). Researchers are optimistic their work will lead to new drugs that help those not relieved of symptoms by current medication options.

Source: Medical News Today
Photo credit: digitalbob8 (flickr)

 
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