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Scientists Discover Fast-Acting Antidepressant

Update Date: Oct 29, 2013 04:52 PM EDT

A fast-acting antidepressant recently discovered by scientists could play an important part in changing therapy for patients with depression according to a new study.

"One of the biggest problems in the treatment of depression today is a delay in onset of therapeutic effects," Stephanie Dulawa, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago and senior author of the study, said in a news release. "There has been a great need to discover faster-acting drugs."

According to scientist from the University of Chicago, "More than 1 in 10 Americans take antidepressants, but these medications can take weeks-and for some patients, months-before they begin to alleviate symptoms."

Scientists report that ketamine and scopolamine are the only two drugs that show a quick method of treatment for depression but because of its side effects it is not given to humans.

For the study scientists examined different secondary serotonin receptors, proteins that hold serotonin together. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known to regulate mood, memory and appetite.

According to the study, "We observed fast-acting therapeutic effects in multiple behavioral tasks after we administered compounds that selectively block serotonin 2C receptors," said Mark Opal, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and lead author of the paper. "We began our measurements at five days, but we think there's a possibility it could be effective even sooner than that."

Researchers said that serotonin 2C receptors usually prevent the release of dopamine another neurotransmitter that is linked to mood. They found that when 2C is blocked more dopamine is released into the prefrontal cortex of the brain.  Researchers also found that this process shows the effects of an antidepressant.

"This is the first new biological mechanism that has shown the ability to rapidly alleviate symptoms of depression since ketamine and scopolamine, and it potentially represents a much safer alternative," reports the University of Chicago Medical Center. 

Researchers explain that antidepressants on the market today affect serotonin 2C receptors like their study did but are not as selective.

"One of the primary advantages to our discovery is that this is much more of an innocuous target than others that have been identified," Dulawa said.

The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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