New compound may treat depression quickly, with few side effects

BALTIMORE, July 13 (UPI) — Researchers identified a compound that appears to reverse symptoms of depression in rats by strengthening communication in certain regions of the brain in less than 24 hours, as opposed to the weeks it now takes for antidepressant drugs to make a difference for patients.

The most commonly used antidepressant drugs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are only effective for about a third of depression patients, and even when they are, it typically takes three to eight weeks for the drugs to take full effect.

Brain activity is determined by a balance of excitatory and inhibitory communication between brain cells. The researchers focused on inhibitory messages sent by a compound called GABA, searching for ways to limit these messages and artificially increase excitatory messages, a deficiency of which may cause depression.

“These compounds produced the most dramatic effects in animal studies that we could have hoped for,” said Scott Thompson, Ph.D., chair of the department of physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a press release. “It will now be tremendously exciting to find out whether they produce similar effects in depressed patients. If these compounds can quickly provide relief of the symptoms of human depression, such as suicidal thinking, it could revolutionize the way patients are treated.”

After exposing the rats to mild chronic stress and inducing the animals into exhibiting depression-like behaviors, they were given GABA-NAM, compounds which reduce GABA messaging in the brain. Within about 24 hours, researchers said they could see signs of depression reverse in the rats.

Researchers also examined the rats brains after the experiments, finding no effects from GABA-NAM in rats that had not been stressed, leading researchers to believe the compounds will have no adverse effects on humans.

The study is published in Neuropsychopharmacology.