More effective treatments for depression could be developed after scientists discovered a key gene.
Called MKP-1, it was identified through comparing brain tissue samples from dead patients, 21 who were diagnosed with depression and 18 who were depression-free.
The findings, which have been reported in the journal Nature Medicine, show that MKP-1 was twice as active in the brains of those who were depressed.
The gene acts as a block to a molecular pathway that is crucial to the survival and function of neurons.
Study leader Professor Ronald Duman, from Yale University in Connecticut, US, said: “This could be a primary cause, or at least a major contributing factor, to the signalling abnormalities that lead to depression.”
Experts believe multiple physiological processes are involved in clinical depression, which could explain why up to 40% of depressed patients fail to respond to currently available medicines.
Often, it takes weeks or months for an anti-depressant drug to have an effect.
Prof Duman’s team also found that when MKP-1 is deactivated in mice, the animals become resilient to stress.
When the gene was activated, mice exhibited symptoms that mimicked depression.
MKP-1 offered a potential target for a novel class of therapeutic drugs that may prove effective in resistant patients, said the scientists.
Copyright Press Association 2010