NARSAD Grantee and Team Discover New Depression Trigger and Treatment Target

Marina Picciotto, Ph.D., Charles B. G. Murphy Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Neurobiology and Pharmacology at Duke University School of Medicine and Expert on Depression
Marina Picciotto, Ph.D.

A research team at Yale University, including Brain & Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Grantee and senior author Marina Picciotto, Ph.D., discovered a new potential cause of depression. The finding may lead to more effective treatments for the common mental illness. For 25 years, the neurotransmitter serotonin has been targeted as the primary cause and treatment target for depression, but the treatments (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs) have proven ineffective for many depressed patients.

Dr. Picciotto and colleagues found that disruption of a different neurotransmitter system, acetylcholine, induced depression and anxiety symptoms. “We have actually seen depression-like behavior in mice when there is a breakdown in acetylcholine regulation,” said Dr. Picciotto, the Charles B. G. Murphy Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Neurobiology and Pharmacology. “We have also seen altered acetylcholine levels in the brain of people with depression, which shows that this is a good model for the human illness.”

The research team also found that depression symptoms in the same mice were relieved by SSRIs. Dr. Picciotto explains, “Serotonin may be treating the problem, but acetylcholine disruption may be a primary cause. If we can treat the root cause, perhaps we can get a better response from the patient.” The study findings were published Feb. 11, 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read the full announcement from Yale University