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Antidepressants: One Dose Alters the Brain in Just Hours
- Updated: September 19, 2014
Most people stay on antidepressants between four and six weeks prior to seeing in improvement of depressive symptoms but according to a new study, a single dose has the ability to trigger dramatic changes within the brain in only a matter of hours.
Dr. Julia Sacher, coauthor of a study connected to the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, along with a team of researchers, published the findings in Current Biology’s most recent issue.
According to Sacher, 1 in every 10 adults reports some type of depression and 1 in 10 people 12 years and older with depression take antidepressants. The most commonly prescribed medication are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which are sold as various brand names to include Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft.
Scientists believe the production of a neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin is boosted but also, brain connectivity altered, thereby maintaining mood balance. However, the full extent of the serotonergic action on the brain’s functional connectivity has not yet been explored.
As part of the study, Dr. Sacher and her colleagues wanted to determine how SSRIs worked in the brains of 22 healthy adults. Each participant was given a 15-minute brain scan used to measure oxygenation of blood flow. These individuals were also given just one dose of an SSRI (Lexapro) prior to having a second brain scan performed hours later.
The number of connections between voxels in the brain was measured to create a type of 3D image for each of the participants. Once both brain scans were completed, images were compared between the two.
Researchers discovered that the SSRI actually reduced intrinsic connectivity levels in many parts of the brain within only three hours. On the other hand, the SSRI increased connectivity in two specific regions of the brain to include the cerebellum, which is linked to voluntary movement and the thalamus (used for motor function and sensory perception).
The prominent effect on the brain and within such a short period of time was not what Dr. Sacher and her colleagues expected to see. Based on these findings, researchers suggest that SSRIs have the ability to recognize the brain early, thereby reducing symptoms of depression later.
In a statement made by Dr. Sacher, she said that the findings reveal that SSRIshave an effect on brain activity very quickly and that changes encompass all of the brain.
With strong evidence associated with additional experiments, it is possible for these connectivity changes to be the first step in remodeling the brain. While it appears that functional connectivity changes reflect neuroplastic change, more research is necessary to further investigate neuroplasticity mechanisms.
Researchers anticipate the findings from this new study as helping to better understand which patients living with depression will respond to SSRIs and those that will not. Dr. Sacher hopes the work will ultimately prove to be a better guide for decisions pertaining to treatment but also make it possible to customize therapy according to each patient’s need.
Based on the outcome of the study, Dr. Sacher and her team of researchers plan to conduct clinical trials whereby brain connectivity of depressed patients who responded favorably with the use of an SSRI can be compared to those who did not have a positive response.
Specifically, the clinical trials will compare acute, sub-acute, and chronic effects of SSRIs on the functional architecture of the brain in both healthy and sick individuals. The goal is to include a broader range of antidepressant treatment strategies such as sleep deprivation, light therapy, and cognitive therapy. However, the team also wants to see if characteristic patterns in functional connectivity for each of the treatment options can be identified.
Another study was just published in the journal Science involving scientists who claim to have found the area of the brain responsible for controlling mood disorders.