Research Findings on Depression

Nearly one in five U.S. adults—18.95%—live with a mental illness, which is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder by the National Institute of Mental Health. 11.2 million of those with mental illness have a serious mental illness, meaning their disorder results in "serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities." These disorders range from depression and anxiety to PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, OCD, eating disorders, personality disorders, and others. It also includes suicidal thoughts—suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S. in 2017, and was the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 34.

One of the most widespread mental disorders is depression. Researchers at the Department of Human Physiology of the UMA Faculty of Medicine have identified a new drug target that could help—GAL (1-15), a part of the brain molecule Galanin neuropeptide. The Galanin fragment was found to be central to anhedonia, which is the loss of pleasure in usual daily actiivites, a common symptom of depression. Understanding this process and the effect of the Galanin fragment can support the development of new therapeutic strategies.

Women are about twice as likely as men to develop depression. One recent depression study strengthens the link between depression and inflammation, especially in women. Study participants had inflammation induced for short period, then played a game while their brains were scanned in an fMRI machine in order to evaluate activity in the ventral striatum (VS). Reduced activity in the VS has been found to cause anhedonia. The women who experienced the biggest inflammatory response also had the largest decrease in VS activity. The same result was not found in men.

About one-third of patients with depression don't respond to regular treatments, leading to a much greater likelihood of dying by suicide. One new treatment may help reduce those statistics: esketamine nasal spray. A phase 3 depression clinical trial found it to be mostly safe and effective for those not gaining relief from traditional medications, and with much faster results. The FDA has approved it for use alongside an orally administered medication for adults in whom other treatments failed.

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Stephanie Jones