NARSAD Grantee Discovers How Stress and Depression Shrink the Brain

Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D., three-time NARSAD Grantee and Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council Member
Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D.

Certain brain regions in people with major depression are smaller and less dense than those of their healthy counterparts. Why this occurs has been a major focus of research in laboratories around the world.  A team of researchers led by Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D., three-time NARSAD Grantee and Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council Member has traced the genetic reason for this shrinkage and discovered a mechanism that causes it to occur.

Dr. Duman, professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, found that a single genetic switch known as a transcription factor represses the expression of several genes that are necessary for the formation of synaptic connections between brain cells. This in turn could contribute to loss of brain mass in the prefrontal cortex.

"We wanted to test the idea that stress causes a loss of brain synapses in humans," said Dr. Duman. "We show that circuits normally involved in emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription factor is activated." The team’s findings were reported in the August 12th issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

Dr. Duman received a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grant in 2005, a NARSAD Independent Investigator Grant in 1997 and a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant in 1989.

Read more about Dr. Duman's research related to depression