They have pinpointed a key molecule, eIF4E, that may protect the brain from depression. The team studied mice that were bred to have defects in their ability to activate eIF4E and these animals showed signs of depression, including reduced levels of the hormone serotonin, which is a hallmark of the condition. The mice also showed behavioural changes linked to depression, such as disinterest in food.
Treatment with a commonly prescribed antidepressant, fluoxetine, failed to produce a response in the mice. This suggests that activation of eIF4E is required for the beneficial antidepressant effects of fluoxetine, and other selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Researchers say this could help explain why some patients stop responding to SSRIs.
Previous studies have shown that eIF4E plays a key role in regulating protein synthesis in the brain. Defects in eIF4E have been linked with other neurological conditions, including autism and fragile X syndrome. This is the first time the molecule has been implicated in depression. Experts say the latest findings could help develop new medications for depression, which affects about one in four people in the UK each year.