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Depression linked to previously unknown dopamine regulator

BOSTON-- Researchers from Harvard Medical School have found a molecule that is unexpectedly involved in dopamine signaling, and in a manner that supports the potential of dopamine as an alternative target for treating depression. The results provide evidence that there is a molecular link between impaired dopamine signaling and depression, which affects 16 percent of the adult population in the United States. The research appears in the July 29 issue of Cell.

Li-Huei Tsai, Harvard Medical School (HMS) professor of pathology, HMS research fellow Sang Ki Park, and colleagues worked with mice and found a novel function for the molecule Par-4 (prostate apoptosis response 4)--as a binding partner for dopamine receptor D2. When mice deficient in Par-4 were subjected to stress, they showed depression-like behaviors, proposing Par-4as a molecular link between dopamine signaling and depression. Par-4 was previously implicated as a proapoptotic factor in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. These new findings reveal an unexpected role for Par-4 in the dopamine system and present a rare glimpse of molecular mechanisms behind clinical depression.

"Current antidepression therapies are mostly based on the deficiency or imbalance of the serotonin and noradrenaline systems. Our study highlights the importance of the dopamine system, a less appreciated target in the current antidepression therapies," said Tsai, also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Although the cause of depression is multifaceted, a hypothesis based on deficiency or imbalance of serotonin and/or noradrenaline as the root of depression has been a central topic of research. Drugs that currently treat depression (SSRIs and MAOIs, which acutely modify levels of serotonin or noradrenaline at the synapse) have significant delays before becoming effective, and a large percentage of people are resistant to the current therapies, leaving room for improvement of ther
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Contact: Leah Gourley
public_affairs@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0442
Harvard Medical School
28-Jul-2005


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