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Breakthrough leads to powerful new 'natural' treatments for depression

Teresa Tanoos's picture
potent new class of antidepressants

Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center say they have made an important breakthrough in the treatment of depression by discovering how a natural compound works to regulate mood, a finding that could lead to powerful new treatments for depression.

Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, associate professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern, explained that the researchers discovered an important method by which ghrelin, a natural antidepressant hormone, works inside the brain. In addition, they also found a neuroprotective drug that they said has the potential to be a powerful antidepressant.

These findings, recently published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, were the result of a study that conducted an analysis of ghrelin in mice, but the same mechanisms would occur in humans, according to the research team.

This latest study comes on the heels of earlier research led by Dr. Zigman, which discovered that ghrelin has natural antidepressant properties that increase during times of prolonged stress or when caloric intake is restricted.

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In this new study, researchers also discovered that ghrelin – also known as the “hunger hormone” because it stimulates appetite – can generate new neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that controls mood, memory and complicated eating behaviors.

Dr. Zigman said that by researching how ghrelin works to reduce depression after prolonged stress, the team uncovered a potentially powerful and brand new class of antidepressant drugs.

It all came about when the research team decided to find out if ghrelin’s antidepressant effect could be enhanced with P7C3 compounds, which had been discovered previously to have neuroprotective properties.

What they learned is that P7C3 compounds did indeed enhance the antidepressant effect of ghrelin to a significant extent. They also found that a "highly active analog" of the P7C3-A20 compounds stimulated the creation of new neurons to a much greater extent than current antidepressant drugs on the market.

The results of the study indicate that the P7C3 compounds could help those suffering with depression associated with prolonged stress, as well as those who are obese or anorexic due to having altered ghrelin levels or ghrelin resistance.

SOURCE: The P7C3 class of neuroprotective compounds exerts antidepressant efficacy in mice by increasing hippocampal neurogenesis, doi:10.1038/mp.2014.34, Jeffrey Zigman et al., published in Molecular Psychiatry, April 22, 2014.