For the 1 in 10 Americans who take antidepressants, relief of symptoms can take weeks — or even months — for the medication to start working. But scientists at the University of Chicago have discovered a new mechanism that induces fast-acting antidepressant effects in mice, opening the door to new classes of depression treatments.
Currently, only two drugs — ketamine and scopolamine — can more rapidly alleviate depressive symptoms, but both carry severe side effects, making neither suitable for human use.
"One of the biggest problems in the treatment of depression today is a delay in onset of therapeutic effects," said Stephanie Dulawa, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago. "There has been a great need to discover faster-acting drugs."
For the new study, Dulawa and her team tested biological pathways known to generate antidepressant effects but never been studied for rate of onset. They looked at different subtypes of serotonin receptors, proteins that bind to the brain chemical that regulates mood, memory, and appetite.
By selectively blocking certain receptors in mice, the team found they could significantly reduce depression-like behaviors in only five days, compared to a minimum of two weeks for a typical antidepressant.
"We observed fast-acting therapeutic effects in multiple behavioral tasks after we administered compounds that selectively block serotonin 2C receptors," said Mark Opal, lead researcher. "We began our measurements at five days, but we think there's a possibility it could be effective even sooner than that."
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