Daffodils and Depression, What's the Connection?
The site of blooming daffodils may indeed lift your spirits, but scientists at the University of Copenhagen have another reason for associating the flowers with positive thoughts. They report that South African daffodils have compounds that may reach the brain and make it possible to develop better drugs for depression.
What's difficult about treating depression?
The brain is protected by the blood-brain barrier, an interface between the blood and the brain that is composed of cells that limit the passage of substances from the bloodstream into the brain. Glucose, necessary for brain function, can pass through the barrier, but many drugs cannot.
In fact, according to Birger Brodin, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, he and others have long worked at ways to transport drug compounds across the blood-brain barrier. However, "more than 90 percent of all potential drugs fail the test by not making it through the barrier, or being pumped out as soon as they do get in," he noted.
One thing that has inspired them to continue their search is the use of natural therapies, and that's where the daffodils come into the story. University of Copenhagen researchers previously reported that compounds found in South African flowers akin to daffodils and snowdrops (Cyrtanthus and Crinum) have an impact on processes in the brain that are involved in depression.
Now, additional research has flowered (so to speak) and revealed that several South African daffodils boast components with abilities that allow them to break through the blood-brain barrier. After examining the daffodil compounds for their effect on transporter proteins, Brodin noted that "Several of our plant compounds can probably be smuggled past the brain's effective barrier proteins."
However, don't expect a daffodil-based drug for depression to be popping up on pharmaceutical shelves anytime soon. Brodin warned that while the results of their efforts thus far have been promising, much work lies ahead, including cooperation between him and other biologists at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, and organic chemists from the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology and the Natural History Museum of Denmark.
If this partnership sounds a bit unusual when talking about developing a drug that may one day be used for depression, it's important to point out that plants and their compounds are often used to develop medical drugs. Experts at the latter two mentioned facilities work with medicinal plants that have an impact on the central nervous system.
One example of a plant substance that may help treat depression has been studied by researchers at Imperial College, London. The substance, psilocybin, is obtained from certain mushrooms. When healthy volunteers were given psilocybin, investigators found that it suppressed the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is hyperactive in depression.
As for daffodils, Brodin noted that "Studies of natural therapies are a valuable source of inspiration, giving us knowledge that can also be used in other contexts." And utilizing daffodils to help treat depression seems to fall into that category.
Eriksson AH et al. In-vitro evaluation of the P-glycoprotein interactions of a series of potentially CNS-active Amaryllidaceae alkaloids. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 2012 Jun 4: doi:10.1111/j.2042-7158.2012.01536
University of Copenhagen