24 August 2006

Depression gene bred out of mice

A new breed of permanently 'cheerful' mice is providing hope of a new treatment for clinical depression.

TREK-1 is a gene that can affect transmission of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is known to play an important role in mood, sleep and sexuality. By breeding mice with an absence of TREK-1, researchers were able create a depression-resistant strain. The details of this research, which involved an international collaboration with scientists from the University of Nice, France, are published in Nature Neuroscience this week.

"Depression is a devastating illness, which affects around 10% of people at some point in their life," says Dr Guy Debonnel an MUHC psychiatrist, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University, and principal author of the new research. "Current medications for clinical depression are ineffective for a third of patients, which is why the development of alternate treatments is so important."

Mice without the TREK-1 gene ('knock-out' mice) were created and bred in collaboration with Dr Michel Lazdunski, co-author of the research, in his laboratory at the University of Nice, France.

"These 'knock-out' mice were then tested using separate behavioural, electrophysiological and biochemical measures known to gauge 'depression' in animals," says Dr Debonnel. "The results really surprised us; our 'knock-out' mice acted as if they had been treated with antidepressants for at least three weeks."

This research represents the first time depression has been eliminated through genetic alteration of an organism. "The discovery of a link between TREK-1 and depression could ultimately lead to the development of a new generation of antidepressant drugs," noted Dr Debonnel. - (EurekAlert! August 2006)

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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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