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What ideas are on the horizon for better, more effective ways to treat depression?

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Summary:

The first attempts at defining depression as a biologically-based illness hinged on a theory of a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain.

Answer:

The first attempts at defining depression as a biologically-based illness hinged on a theory of a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain. It was thought that too much or too little of essential signal-transmitting chemicals—neurotransmitters—were present in the brain. This idea has been useful—that the brain is a kind of chemical soup in which there may be too much dopamine or too little serotonin, but it is no longer adequate. All the current antidepressants are designed based on this theory, but many researchers are looking to understand in greater detail the brain biology that underlies depression’s symptoms so that novel therapies can be found.

One example in a recently published study (in Nature July 12, 2012) identifies a new molecular mechanism responsible for anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure, that is one of the most crippling symptoms of depression. The research team found that a hormone known to affect appetite, called melanocortin, turns off the brain’s ability to experience pleasure when an animal is stressed. This is the first study to implicate melanocortin in depression and could lead to an entirely new class of antidepressant medications.
(Source: Dr. Robert Malenka, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council)

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