The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded a new study by Weikang Tsai, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the College of Osteopathic Medicine of Institute of Technology, New York (NYITCOM). In said study, Tsai will examine the effects of chronic stress on brain chemistry and the clinical development of depression. The research project, which will get $1.6 million from NIH funds over five years, could help find out high-end treatments for clinical depression, a growing problem.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects more than 300 million people all over the world, and this figure is on the rise. Depression, in contrast to normal mood changes and short-term emotional reactions to problems in everyday life, can lead to serious health problems, social maladjustment, and decreased performance. Therefore, a deeper study of its nature and influencing factors will allow the development of more contemporary methods of its diagnosis and treatment.
To understand the course and subject of the mentioned research, you should familiarize yourself with such a hormone as dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is responsible for motivation and the feeling that comes with achieving success. It is released from nerve cells when the brain expects a pleasure reward for some actions, signaling behaviors that provide a pleasant experience or keep away with harm. When the brain associates behavior with a certain pleasure reward, dopamine is also released in future scenarios, enhancing the behavior. This is called the habit-forming cycle, which is also known as the reward system.
Today, dopamine gesturing is often restrained in clinically depressed patients. This suggests that dopamine imbalances cause certain behavioral symptoms, including lack of motivation. However, the regulation of dopamine by the brain is still not fully understood.
What Tsai claims about the new study
Weikang Tsai, who will lead the study, believes that future research will provide new insights into the known neural processes that come up with major depressive disorders, as well as developing new therapies that will help avert and treat clinical depression, which is a critically important challenge today.
Tsai is convinced that during stressful situations, the connection of astrocytes, a type of auxiliary cells in nerve tissue, with nerve cells can be lost, which interferes with the production of dopamine and contributes to the development of serious depressive disorders. If this is true, then future research results may help find new treatments for these conditions.
Additionally, in another early study, Tsai showed that insulin provokes astrocytes to free ATP (the primary carrier of energy in cells) an action that is often impaired in diabetic patients. Accordingly, this new study may also explain why these patients are prone to depression.
The research team and research progress
Tsai and his fellow researchers will test his theory in mice with astrocytes that cannot secrete ATP, which will confirm or deny his statement. The research staff will track the relationship between ATP rates and dopamine transmitting as mice undergo light but repulsive and unpredictable environmental factors such as abnormal lighting and background noise. The researchers will also observe whether mice exhibit a lack of motivation when astrocytes are unable to initiate a process that ultimately increases dopamine release. In other words, the behavior of animals is likely to reflect the behavior of people with clinical depression.
Overall, this research will provide a new way of looking at depression, contribute to a better understanding of the processes that occur in this diagnosis, and help develop new and more effective treatments for patients. The research results will also be relevant for learning by students throughout the world, including the Institute of Technology New York, its students, and staff as well.