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Pular antidepressants boost brain growth, Hopkins scientists report

The beneficial effects of a widely used class of antidepressants might be the result of increased nerve-fiber growth in key parts of the brain, according to a Johns Hopkins study being published in the January 2006 issue of the Journal of Neurochemistry.

The study on rats, led by Vassilis E. Koliatsos, M.D., a neuropathologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase the density of nerve-impulse-carrying axons in the frontal and parietal lobes of the neocortex and part of the limbic brain which control the sense of smell, emotions, motivation, and organs that work reflexively such as the heart, intestines and stomach. "It appears that SSRI antidepressants rewire areas of the brain that are important for thinking and feeling, as well as operating the autonomic nervous system," said Koliatsos.

Axons are long, filament-shaped extensions of neurons that, together with myelin, are the main constituents of nerves. Axons conduct chemically driven nerve impulses away from the cell body toward a narrow gap known as a synapse. Among the chemicals involved are such monoamines as norepinephrine and serotonin, which, at the synapse, are transferred to another neuron.

Antidepressants, such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, have long been thought to exert their clinical effects by increasing synaptic concentrations of serotonin and norepinephrine, enhancing or stimulating their transference.

"But our findings -- that serotonin reuptake modulators increase the density of nerve synapses, especially in the front part of the brain - may offer a better explanation of why antidepressants are effective and why they take time to work," according to Koliatsos.

For example, antidepressants increase synaptic monoamines within hours, and the regulatory effects on receptors are complete within a few days, yet clinically meaningful results from antidepressants usually require a two-
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Contact: Eric Vohr
evohr1@jhmi.edu
410-955-8665
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
19-Dec-2005


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