Depression: Link to brain protein holds promise for new treatments

Depression: Link to brain protein holds promise for new treatments

New treatment options for depression could become a reality in the future thanks to new research out of the University of Victoria.

The health condition, which affects more than 300 million people, is a leading cause of disability worldwide and the highest risk factor for suicide. Through examining what happens inside the brain’s cells in order to better understand how depression occurs, UVic neuroscientist Lisa Kalynchuk and her team are hoping their research can help to improve the future for depression sufferers.

Kalynchuk and her team started out studying a large protein called reelin, responsible for many different cell-to-cell interactions in the brain. They found a correlation between decreased levels of reelin and increased levels of depressive symptoms, both in animals and humans.

In lab rats suffering from depressive symptoms, an infusion of reelin provided immediate relief.

“We know reelin is found in the brain, but it’s also found in the immune system, which is itself linked to depression,” said Kalynchuk, UVic’s associate vice-president of research, who worked on the research with doctoral student Josh Allen, post-doctoral fellow Raquel Romay-Tallon, and neuroscientist Hector Caruncho.

“We also know that certain immune factors are linked to the building blocks of cells, so we began thinking about how activities within individual cells might be implicated in depression.”

The team, based out of UVic’s Division of Medical Sciences, focused on the mitochondria – a cell component that, among other things, produces energy for the cells.

If mitochondria aren’t working properly, cells may not be able to produce enough reelin, which the team’s research had strongly correlated with depression.

“We’re trying to propose a new neurobiological theory for what causes depression, which can then be used to develop new treatments that will work more quickly, in more patients, and with fewer side-effects,” said Kalynchuk.

Kalynchuk anticipates further studies will identify other cells and systems tied to depression. These studies could lead to novel treatments, such as repairing mitochondria and other cell functions, and could eventually result in alternatives to anti-depressant drugs, which are effective in only half of patients experiencing depression.

Kalynchuk is lead author of the peer-reviewed paper, Mitochondria and Mood: Mitochondrial Dysfunction as a Key Player in the Manifestation of Depression, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

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University of Victoria