New depression studies reveal persistent serotonin system abnormality in patients

CHAPEL HILL About 10 years ago, Dr. Robert Golden and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill colleagues discovered an important new clue to the cause of depression, one that other researchers eventually confirmed.

They found that depressed people showed a blunted hormonal response to a test he developed that boosts serotonin, an important neurotransmitter chemical in the brain.

"This neuroendocrine challenge test, which involved giving depressed volunteer patients a medicine called clomipramine, indicated that depressed patients serotonin systems were sluggish in response and not working efficiently," Golden said. "An analogy I use is that their serotonin engine needs a tune-up because they arent getting much mileage out of the gas being burned."

Now, newly published work by his laboratory shows that as a group, people suffering from the illness have that biological abnormality even when they are not depressed.

"We believe this work is an important step forward in our understanding of depression because it demonstrates an ongoing trait that distinguishes patients who have had the illness from the rest of the population," he said. "It is strong evidence that depression reflects a genetic trait, which clinicians have believed for a long time because depression tends to run in families."

Golden is professor and chair of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine. In February next year, he will receive the American College of Psychiatrists annual award for contributions to mood disorders research.

A report on the findings appears in the May issue of Neuropsychopharmacology, a scientific journal. Besides Golden, authors include biostatistician R. David Ekstrom, Drs. Joseph M. Bebchuk and Martha E. Leatherman, both former postdoctoral fellows, and Dr. James C. Garbutt, professor of psychiatry.

One of the bodys most important neurotransmitters, serotonin helps regulate many emotional and physiologic functi

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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