Amino acid may provide clues to new psychiatric treatments

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As scientists understand the role of inflammation and oxidative stress in psychiatric disorders, more therapies can be developed.

One such investigative therapy in clinical trials is an amino acid called N-Acetyl Cysteine, or NAC. It appears to reduce the core symptoms of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, autism and the cravings of addiction for drugs like cocaine and nicotine.

Drug discovery at a 'near standstill'

Most pharmaceutical companies have lost their creative thinking where psychiatric and neurologic medications are concerned. “One of the factors has been an over reliance on typical monoamine pathways as targets for drug discovery,” explained Professor Michael Berk, Chair in Psychiatry at Deakin University, Geelong, Australia.

According to former National Institute for Mental Health Director Steven Hyman, “Drug discovery is at a near standstill for treating psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and common forms of autism.”

New discoveries are leading in new directions

But treatments can go beyond standard monoamine-based drug therapies. Neuroscience has found an array of other important pathways that are involved in most major psychiatric disorder like schizophrenia and unipolar and bipolar depression. According to Berk, there is now an evidence base that these disorders share inflammation and oxidative stress as part of their disease physiology.

“This understanding provides an entirely new set of treatment targets,” according to Berk.

NAC seems to have multiple effects on all these pathways. It boosts the antioxidant defense, has anti-inflammatory properties, enhances levels of nerve cell growth proteins and the growth of new neurons, and it reduces cell death pathways. It may reduce dysfunction in the mitochondria where energy generation is a consideration.

New range of potential treatments

Clinical trials have shown that NAC reduces core symptoms of schizophrenia including apathy, social interaction and amotivation. It may reduce depression in people with bipolar disorder. Additionally, new data shows that NAC may reduce cravings in a number of addictions.

“Apart from nausea, it appears to be relatively free of problematic side effects,” said Berk. “Capitalizing on our understanding of inflammation and oxidative stress in major psychiatric disorders appears to give us an entirely new range of potential treatments of these common, severe and disabling conditions.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Deakin University

 
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