Inherited Depression Linked To Shortage Of Cells In Brain Region


The researchers were expecting to see a discrepancy in the number of neurons. But to their surprise, there was instead a big difference in the number of cells called glia. These housekeeping cells recycle ions and chemicals that come out of neurons. They also respond to the stress hormone cortisol and to serotonin, which is depleted in depression.

Using a larger number of tissue samples from the Stanley Foundation in Bethesda, Md., Öngür and Price were able to confirm this result and show that the decreased number of glia is restricted to patients with a family history of depression.

Without knowing Öngür's results, Drevets had read the medical reports of the donors, deciding which cases were familial and which were not. People classified with familial depression had a first degree relative, a parent, sibling or child, who also had been depressed. Drevets, a psychiatrist, is at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He conducted his original study at Washington University School of Medicine.

"It turned out that only the samples from people with familial depression had a decreased number of glia," Price says. "That suggests that this deficit may relate to the genetic difference that gives people a tendency to become depressed."

The difference in familial cases amounted to between 25 percent and 40 percent. The subgenual prefrontal cortex of the controls contained about 9 million glia. The number was reduced to about 7 million in the people with familial unipolar depression and to about 5.4 million in the people with familial bipolar disorder.

Medication effects were unlikely to account for the difference, Price explains, because both the familial and the other depressed patients had taken medications. And the unipolar and bipolar patients had taken different types of drugs, yet both had fewer glial cells. Depression itself was unlikely to be the culprit because th

Contact: Linda Sage
Washington University School of Medicine

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