Friday, October 5, 2012

A quick way to relieve symptoms of depression

Depression is the clinical manifestation of a 'bad mood'. It is characterized by feelings of negative emotions, including sadness, anxiousness, hopelessness, emptiness and worthlessness. A depressed patient is having more than just an occasional bad mood, and it has been associated with lower levels of certain brain chemicals in areas that regulate mood. There are several drugs on the market that try to correct this neuronal imbalance, but there is no definite cure. Now, scientists from Yale University have shown that a well-known substance called ketamine diminishes symptoms of depression within hours. This could be a breakthrough for depression treatment.

Ketamine is a well-known drug used as anaesthetic in animals, and is known to relieve pain and cause hallucinations in humans. It is a popular party drug, and is also known as 'Special K'. It binds to a specific receptor in the brain, known as the NMDA receptor, which is implied in more drugs abused for recreational purposes. Because of its effects, it was already suggested to be useful for the treatment of depressed patients, but its effects were not fully understood in humans.

Clinical tests
According to results derived from tests in a clinical and experimental setting, ketamine is able to reduce the symptoms of depression to zero in mere hours, which is a truly remarkable feat. Especially considering that conditional treatment can take months to show clinical effect. In order to discover the effect that ketamine has on the brain, the scientists did additional experiments, showing that binding to the NMDA receptor induces an increase in the production of glutamate. This compound is well-known as a general brain activator, which in this case means brain cells increase the level of connections made with their neighbours, a mechanism that is known to be impaired in the mood-regulating brain areas of depressed patients.

As said, the effect of ketamine was well-known, though poorly understood. It means that providing depressed patients with the drug is likely not the best option. Therefore, the scientists hope to use their newfound knowledge to create novel drugs that work in a similar way to ketamine, but have more desirable (being less) side effects. So far, efforts have yielded compounds that are effective, but lack the fast-acting effect that ketamine possesses. Future attempts should provide compounds that function more effectively, but the current results already make things look bright for patients with a depression. Although the patients themselves may adopt a more pessimistic attitude towards these developments.

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