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One Dose of Antidepressant Alters the Brain

Update Date: Sep 18, 2014 12:07 PM EDT

Just one dose of an antidepressant can cause changes in the brain within a few hours, a new study found. Based on the brain scans taken before and after patients took a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is a commonly prescribed antidepressant, researchers found changes in brain connectivity.

"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," commented Julia Sacher of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

For this study, the researchers recruited 22 healthy participants who have never taken antidepressants before to partake in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, two-way cross-over design study. The participants had three scanning sessions at a resting state. After the initial scan, the participants were given either a single dose of escitalopram (Lexapro) or a placebo. They underwent the second scan roughly three to four hours after.

The researchers discovered that one dose of SSRI was enough to change brain connectivity. The drug reduced the level of intrinsic connectivity in many regions of the brain. The cerebellum and thalamus were the only areas were connectivity increased.

Although SSRIs are studied and widely used, researchers are not entirely sure of how these drugs work. Experts noted that these drugs treat depression by altering brain connectivity. However, they had believed that the changes took place over weeks as opposed to hours. The researchers hope that this study's findings can help with future research into depression.

"The hope that we have is that ultimately our work will help to guide better treatment decisions and tailor individualized therapy for patients suffering from depression," Sacher stated according to the press release.

The study, "Serotonergic modulation of intrinsic functional connectivity," was published in the journal, Current Biology.

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