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New Therapeutic Target for Depression Identified

First Posted: May 23, 2019 10:34 AM EDT
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Depression is one of the most widespread disorders that affect society, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, it is estimated that 4 million people are affected in Spain.

There are different pharmacological treatments for depression, mainly therapies that act on the serotonin system -the so-called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). However, it has been evidenced that these antidepressants take around two weeks to have an effect and, what's more, around 30% of patients are resistant to this drug.

Researchers of the Department of Human Physiology of the UMA Faculty of Medicine have taken a step closer to a new therapeutic target to face this mental disorder.

Particularly, the group of "Neurochemistry of the Transmission in the Central Nervous System", co-directed by Professor Zaida Díaz-Cabiale, has evidenced that a fragment of the "Galanin" neuropeptide -an endogenous molecule of the brain- is involved in anhedonia, which is the loss of the capacity to feel pleasure in daily activities, for instance, meals, social activity or sex, and, thus, one of the main symptoms in depressed patients.

These researchers have demonstrated for the first time the role of "GAL (1-15)" in the brain reward system of an animal model.

"We have verified through different experiments how animals modify their response to high-reinforcement appetitive stimuli, such as saccharine or sexual attraction, after the administration of the Galanin fragment", explains researcher Carmelo Millón, one of the authors of this study, published in Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Furthermore, in this article, in which a researcher of Karolinska Institute (Sweden) has participated, they have analyzed the brain reinforcement system at a molecular level, the circuit in charge of reinforcing positive behavior for individuals and species, and reaffirmed that the Galanin fragment acts directly on this neurological mechanism, reducing the circuit activity.

According to Millón, describing this fragment is essential to modulate the brain reward circuit, having interesting applications that go beyond treatments for depression, such as its possible use in drug-related addictions. "The understanding of these mechanisms opens the way for endless therapeutic strategies, hence its importance", he says.

The research group of "Neurochemistry of the Transmission in the Central Nervous System" has been studying the Galanin molecule for more than two decades, originally in cardiovascular regulation. Its role in neuropsychiatric diseases, such as depression or anxiety, started to be investigated in the UMA in 2007.

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