•Researchers studying the prefrontal cortex of the brain found that activating the SIRT1 gene seems to reverse depression symptoms.
•However, this was only observed in male mice, and the findings aren’t applicable to humans yet.
•Nevertheless, this observation could mean major improvements in antidepressant research.
According to statistics from the Department of Health (DOH), approximately 3.3 million Filipinos suffer from depression and similar disorders. On top of that, the country’s suicide rate (per 100,000) clocks in at 2.5 for men and 1.7 for women.
Indeed, depression is now recognized as one of modern-day society’s most prevalent and deadly health problems. Despite the existence of mental illness legislation, therapeutic methods, and medication, patient umbers continue to rise with each passing year.
However, a team of researchers at Augusta University in the United States are looking at a novel way of reversing depression — one that is akin to flipping a switch inside the brain.
A mental switch?
After studying the prefrontal cortex of mice test subjects, molecular behavioral neuroscientist Dr. Xin-Yun Lu and her team observed that activating the SIRT1 gene seemingly curbs depression symptoms, much like an antidepressant.
Conversely, deactivating the gene causes the symptoms to emerge.
In numerous studies in the past, the prefrontal cortex has been shown to have a strong association with depression. As this is the part of the brain that handles social behavior and planning, this isn’t entirely surprising.
What is surprising, however, is that when SIRT1 is deactivated in excitatory neurons (which play a major role in mood regulation), mice began to exhibit symptoms of depression. Interestingly, the symptoms disappeared upon the gene’s reactivation.
It’s worth noting that people suffering from depression do not fire as many of these excitatory neurotransmitters as they normally would. Dr. Lu describes them as “disconnected.”
Interestingly, patients exhibiting manic behavior and seizures are in the opposite predicament: Their neurotransmitters fire a little too much.
In either situation, the neurotransmitters aren’t functioning properly — and these new findings can help take care of that.
Depression, differences, and drugs
Right now, however, there’s just one problem, and it’s a bit weird: Females don’t seem to be affected by SIRT1 like males are.
What makes this even more surprising is that the SIRT1 gene variant was first identified in a study on depressed women.
Dr. Lu and the team are looking into studying other areas of the brain (such as the hippocampus) to find physical differences that could explain the disparity.
Nevertheless, the team’s findings seem promising, and could very well lead to the development of better medication for depressed people.
Cover Photo: Pexels
Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco
Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.