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In a study recently performed by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it is thought that major depression could be the result of abnormalities in the brain’s immune cells. This new research may pave the way for new psychiatric medication treatments becoming available.
In the brain “microglia” cells act as the first and main type of active immune defense for the central nervous system. These cells could be the causative factors behind major depression. The latest theory could open the door to the next generation of anti-depressant drugs.
At some point, approximately one in six people will develop major depression. It is the leading cause of disability all around the world and it surpasses cardiac and respiratory diseases, HIV/AIDS and cancer combined.
In this groundbreaking study, the results of which were published in the Trends of Neuroscience Journal, and researchers stated, “Progress in the understanding of the biology of depression has been slow.” They further stated that the understanding needs to expand beyond the “abnormalities in the functioning of neurons.” The other neurons and brain cells that often go unnoticed by researchers, may be more relevant in causing depression than what was originally thought.
Professor Raz Yirmiya, director of Hebrew University’s Laboratory for PsychoNeuroimmunology and senior author of the study wrote a paper titled, “Depression as a Microglial Disease.”
Recent research finds that some types of depression may result from brain cell malfunction. Professor Yirmiya went on to state,” However, this does not mean that all sub-types of depression or other psychiatric diseases are originated by abnormalities in these cells.”
The professor’s newest research might have a profound impact on the future development of anti-depressant medicines. Present anti-depressant medications don’t always have the effects desired on a patient, so there is an important and urgent need to discover biological mechanisms and drug targets for diagnosing the main cause of depression and treatment methods.
In Trends in Neuroscience journal, the team of researchers from Hebrew University claim that microglia that are diseased can result in causing depression and drugs which restore the normal functioning of these cells can possibly be effective as an anti-depressant.
Microglia represent about 10% of total cells in the human brain and they are important for fighting infections and viruses .These cells also promote repair and healing in the brain that are due to trauma and injury.
The microglia in the brain changes due to injury, aging, trauma, infection, autoimmune diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. With these types of conditions, microglia enter an active state and become round, secreting compounds that are designed to reduce inflammation.
The shape and function of the microglia will also change if exposed to unpredictable psychological stress. Additionally, the research team discovered that following stress exposure, some microglia died, while the ones remaining became smaller and degenerated.
These findings related to microglia have important clinical implications. Professor Yirmiya states that each person suffering from depression receives a personalized approach to treatment. The findings of the latest study, offer new hope and better options for those suffering from major depression and in need of treatment.
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