A research investigation on 22 people showed that a single dose of an anti-depressant is capable enough to dramatically alter the brain’s architecture within hours, contradicting the previous theory that antidepressants took from a few days to a few months to display some changes in people suffering from depression.
The most widely studied and prescribed form of antidepressants SSRIs, (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) include Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, Paxil and Zoloft. These are the drugs which are also widely used in treatment of Anxiety disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, etc.
An estimate shows more than 1 in 10 adults suffering with depression. SSRIs performs the task of balancing the availability of a chemical transmitter in the brain, serotonin, by blocking the way it is reabsorbed to boost the mood of the person under depression.
The patients under observation has never taken antidepressants. They first scanned the brains of these people and selected some of them randomly to take an SSRI.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, used a magnetic resonance imaging machine to compare connections between those who took SSRIs and those who did not.
Brain scans taken of people before and after an acute dose of a commonly prescribed SSRI showed changes in connectivity architecture in the brain mainly within thalamus and the cerebellum within three hours, researchers said.
After measuring the oxygenation of blood flow in the brain, the researchers developed a 3-D model of each individual’s brain by measuring and recording the number of connections between small blocks known as voxels and the resulting change in these specific connections after given a single dose of escitalopram (Lexapro).
Julia Sacher from Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences said, “We were not expecting the SSRI to have such a prominent effect on such a short timescale or for the resulting signal to encompass the entire brain.”
“However, much work remains before we understand how different antidepressants affect the brains of people with and without depression, not only after the first dose, but also over the longer term. The hope that we have for future studies is to uncover distinct differences in brain connectivity between depression patients who ultimately respond to an antidepressant and those who do,” Julia Sacher , who was also the lead author of the study concluded.
“In a perfect world, you would look not only at SSRIs, but all sorts of medications and non-pharmacological interventions,” Sacher said. “That would really help to tailor individual therapy for someone in the midst of a depressive episode.”
The new study, published in the journal Current Biology online September 18th is a vital first step toward clinical studies in patients suffering from depression.
Dr Sacher said: “Understanding the differences between the brains of individuals who respond to SSRIs and those who don’t could help to better predict who will benefit from this kind of antidepressant versus some other form of therapy.
“We hope our work will help to guide better treatment decisions and tailor individualised therapy for patients suffering from depression.”
However the new study is said to be a limited one as it has been conducted only on the medication-free individuals because according to researchers the brain pattern of depressed people are far different from healthy people.
“The findings indicate that compared to subjects who were administered a placebo, the subjects receiving the SSRI exhibited a considerable change in the degree different brain regions (neural networks) communicate,” said Paul J. Mattis, PhD., Chief of Adult Neuropsychology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY.
“Although not directly relevant to patients with depression, the study provides a small building block in the substantial task of understanding the brains of patients with depression and other disorders in which serotonin is important,” added Mattis.