Mental health matters: Tweaking brain circuits may fight depression
The number of people suffering from depression rose from 8-20% over the past decade. Yet, there are still myths and stigma around mental health issues. Now, in a ray of hope for people suffering from social withdrawal and helplessness behaviour, scientists from the University of California San Diego have linked specific wiring in the brain to distinct behavioural symptoms of depression. The team found brain circuits tied to feelings of despair and helplessness and were able to alleviate and even reverse such symptoms in mice.
“We took an approach of studying depression in the sense that different brain areas and circuits of the brain might mediate or contribute to very discrete aspects of depression,” said study first-author Daniel Knowland, a UC San Diego graduate student. “For example, brain area A might contribute to loss of appetite, brain area B to social withdrawal and so forth,” he added in the study published in the journal Cell.
According to Assistant Professor Byungkook Lim, the results require much more study and evaluation to be applied to humans with depression but new research in animal models provides solid grounding. “This is one of the first studies providing clear evidence showing that different brain circuitry is involved in different types of depressive behaviour with specific symptoms,” said Lim. Each area of the brain is different with distinct cell types and connectivity.
“If we can confirm that one area of circuitry is more involved in a particular symptom than another, we may eventually be able to treat a depression patient more efficiently than treating everyone the same way,” Lim noted. For the research, the scientists identified two populations of neurons in the brain’s ventral pallidum region (part of the basal ganglia) as key to underlying depressive behaviour.