New Compounds Could Bring Depression Relief in 24 Hours

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Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine say they have discovered potential new antidepressant compounds that have the ability to treat symptoms of depression in less than 24 hours — while minimizing the side effects inherent in popularly prescribed antidepressants.

The work conducted by Scott Thompson, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at the school, and colleagues focuses on another one of the brain’s neurotransmitters, GABA, which is an inhibitory compound. Most antidepressants prescribed today target the neurotransmitters serotonin or norepinephrine.

However, the team notes that antidepressants of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and escitalopram (Lexapro), are only effective in about a third of patients who take them. And when they do work, patients can take up to eight weeks to feel relief from symptoms.

Thompson and colleagues argue in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology that in depression, excitatory messages in some areas of the brain are not as robust as they should be. They then examined compounds, known as GABA-NAMs, which would reduce inhibitory messages communicated by GABA.

After rats were exposed to chronic, mild stress, they were given GABA-NAMs. The compounds reduced feelings of anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure, a common depressive symptom, in the rats. In addition, the effects of GABA-NAMs were seen within 24 hours of administration.

“It will now be tremendously exciting to find out whether [GABA-NAMs] produce similar effects in depressed patients,” Thompson said in a statement. “If these compounds can quickly provide relief of the symptoms of human depression, such as suicidal thinking, it could revolutionize the way patients are treated.”

In the Pipeline: Agents for Schizophrenia and Mood Disorders
New compounds, which target the neurotransmitter GABA, provided relief of symptoms within 24 hours in rats with fewer side effects than SSRIs.

A new study by researchers at University of Maryland School of Medicine has identified promising compounds that could successfully treat depression in less than 24 hours while minimizing side effects. Although they have not yet been tested in people, the compounds could offer significant advantages over current antidepressant medications.

The research, led by Scott Thompson, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was published this month in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Currently, most people with depression take medications that increase levels of the neurochemical serotonin in the brain. The most common of these drugs, such as Prozac and Lexapro, are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Unfortunately, SSRIs are effective in only a third of patients with depression. In addition, even when these drugs work, they typically take between three and eight weeks to relieve symptoms.

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