Faulty Brain Cells Implicated As Possible Depression Cause

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Malfunctioning microglia can cause depression, but drugs that restore the normal functioning of them can be as effective as antidepressants. Image courtesy of MIT.
Malfunctioning microglia can cause depression, but drugs that restore the normal functioning of them can be as effective as antidepressants. Image courtesy of MIT.

New research from Israel posits that malfunctioning in a certain kind of brain cell may lead to depression.

Raz Yirmiya, PhD, diorector of the laboratory for PsychoNeuroImmunology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and colleagues examined microglia, which are the brain's immune cells, and account for about 10% of the all brain cells. They also promote repair and healing following brain injury and trauma.

Diseased microglia can cause depression, but drugs that restore the normal functioning of them can be as effective as antidepressants, the researchers argue in the journal Trends in Neurosciences.

“Studies in humans, using post-mortem brain tissues or special imaging techniques, as well as studies in animal models of depression, demonstrated that when the structure and function of microglia change, these cells can no longer regulate normal brain and behavior processes and this can lead to depression,” Yirmiya said in a statement.

Malfunctioning microglia have been cited as a potential cause of other psychiatric conditions, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.  In those disorders, In these microglia become “activated” by become big and round, and then, release compounds that provokes an inflammatory response in the brain.

Yirmiya added that a personalized medicine approach should be considered in those with depression by examining the status of microglia in a patient. And if microglia are impacted, treatment with drugs that either inhibit the overactive microglia or stimulate suppressed microglia should be used.

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