Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Library and the University of California conducted a study in rats that is helping to reveal a cellular mechanism for depressive disorders that could lead to new, effective treatments.

“This research identifies a new anatomical circuit in the brain that mediates depression, and shows how it interacts with the brain’s reward system to trigger a constant disappointment signal—which certainly would be depressing,” said Dr. Fritz Henn of Brookhaven and Cold Spring Harbor laboratories. Identifying this circuit and how it works may open new doors to reversing these effects. The genes expressed in these neurons could be targeted genetically or pharmacologically in order to reverse effects.

It has been known that certain cells in the brain are activated by negativity, including punishment and disappointment. Negative stimulation can lead to depression in some, but not everyone who experiences disappointment collapses into a state of helplessness. The study explored this connection and determined that these certain nerve cells were hyperactive in the depressed animals but not in the controls. Additionally, the degree of hyperactivity coincided with degree of helplessness. Identifying these specific brain circuits and their dysfunction in depression may open the door to new effective treatments. 

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