Latest research by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, US has revealed that potential treatments for depression using gene therapy can be designed for depression by manipulating a novel target inside the brain. If this approach is replicated in humans, it could pave ways for novel therapies for those patients who do not respond to existing depression treatments.
The finding is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Existing antidepressants do not work on many depressive patients
Many of the existing antidepressants increase the levels of neurotransmitters- serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. This affects the mood and emotions drastically. However, it is to be noted that these drugs do not affect certain patients which raises the question that there may be other mechanisms underlying depression that are yet to be discovered.
HCN channel levels linked to depression
In their earlier researches, Chetkovich and his team thought that those additional mechanisms might involve hippocampus- a region in brain responsible for memory, learning and emotions. However, they observed HCN channels changes, which controlled the electrical activity of heart and brain cells. This played an important role in behaviours linked to depression.
Low HCN channels reduced depression
The researchers surgically injected mice with a genetically engineered nontoxic virus whose gene expression could turn off HCN channel proteins in the hippocampus region. The result was that the mice started behaving as if they were on antidepressant medications. When they increased the function of HCN channels, the antidepressant effect vanished.
Developing oral medications to turn off HCN channels
“This work not only identifies a totally new treatment target for depression, it provides a detailed molecular description of the structures that need to be manipulated for it to act as an antidepressant and develops viral tools to do so,” said Chetkovich. He and his team are now working to find tiny molecules that can be developed from oral medications to switch off the HCN channels in the brain
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