Common Antidepressant May Change Brain Structures Differently in Depressed and Non-depressed Individuals

Posted on September 8, 2015

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A commonly prescribed antidepressant may alter brain structures in depressed and non-depressed individuals in very different ways, according to new research at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

The study - conducted in nonhuman primates with brain structures and functions similar to those of humans - found that the antidepressant sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) marketed as Zoloft, significantly increased the volume of one brain region in depressed subjects but decreased the volume of two brain areas in non-depressed subjects.

"These observations are important for human health because Zoloft is widely prescribed for a number of disorders other than depression," said Carol A. Shively, Ph.D., professor of pathology-comparative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study, published in the current online issue of the journal Neuropharmacology.

In humans, Shively said, volume differences in neural structures have been noted in depressed and non-depressed individuals, with the most commonly reported differences being smaller volumes of the cingulate cortex and hippocampus in depressed people. One potential mechanism through which drugs such as Zoloft can be effective as antidepressants is by promoting neuron growth and connectivity in these brain regions.

But SSRIs, including Zoloft, are prescribed for a variety of disorders besides depression, including bulimia, hot flashes, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke recovery and sexual dysfunction, and there are no studies of the effects of these drugs on brain volumes in individuals not diagnosed with depression.

"The study's findings regarding the different effects of sertraline on brain-region volumes in depressed versus non-depressed subjects are compelling," Shively said. "But given the number of different disorders for which SSRIs are prescribed, the findings need to be investigated further in patient populations to see if these drugs produce similar effects in humans."


Category(s):Depression

Source material from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center


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