SSRIs May Change Region of Brain

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The antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft) may increase the volume of a region of the brain in depressed people — yet shrink other areas in those who aren’t depressed.

Carol A. Shively, PhD, of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C., and colleagues fed 41 female monkeys a diet similar to that consumed by many Americans for a year and a half. Depressive behavior was noted. Female monkey were chosen, rather than males, since depression is twice as common in women.

After 18 months, the monkeys were divided into two groups. One received sertraline daily, while the other received placebo. This regiment is equivalent to a human taking the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) for five years.

Based on MRI scans, in depressed monkeys, sertraline significantly increased the volume of one region of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, while decreasing the volume of the same area and the hippocampus in non-depressed subjects, the researchers reported in the journal Neuropharmacology.

SSRIs are prescribed for more than just depression, including bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, yet there are no studies of the effects of the drug class on brain volumes in individuals with these conditions.

SSRIs May Change Region of Brain
In study, monkeys found to be depressed and given sertraline saw reduced volume in the brain's anterior cingulate cortex.

Emerging research suggests sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant, may change brain structures in depressed and non-depressed individuals in different ways.

Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center studied nonhuman primates with brain structures and functions similar to those of humans.

They found sertraline — marketed as Zoloft — significantly increased the volume of one brain region in depressed subjects but decreased the volume of two brain areas in non-depressed subjects. In the study, 41 middle-aged female monkeys were fed a diet formulated to replicate that normally consumed by many Americans for 18 months, during which time depressive behavior in the animals were recorded.

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