Researchers at Åbo Akademi University situated in Finland have collaborated with scientists in the US to improve the overall mood of an individual facing minor to major cases of depression and anxiety. Their groundbreaking discovery revealed new molecular information on how the brain regulates depression and anxiety. In doing so, they identified a new molecule that alleviates anxiety and depressive behaviour in rodents. Depression and anxiety are highly prevalent disorders and represent one of the largest causes of disability worldwide. These experiments, research and results are highly regarded and important as many patients do not respond to current treatments in way that alleviates their condition significantly and it has long been recognised that a new understanding of these disorders would be necessary in order to identify drugs for treatment resistant depression.
From their extensive research, the researchers in Finland and the United States have found a protein called JNK, and when activated, it represses the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus (an area of the brain that controls emotions and learning). Researchers at the university used virus tools to find out where the JNK inhibitor was located within the brain that acted to improve mood. They found out that the molecule acts to alleviate anxiety and depression by controlling newly born nerve cells in the hippocampus. The image, taken at the Cell Imaging Core, shows these new born cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain that controls emotions. By constraining the JNK protein solely in newly-generated nerve cells in the hippocampus, the researchers were able to mitigate anxiety and depressive behaviour in mice. From this breakthrough, this previously unknown mechanism brings fresh insight on how the brain works to regulate mood and indicates that inhibitors of JNK, (such as the one used in this particular experiment), can provide a new avenue for antidepressant and anxiolytic drug development.
This research was funded by the EU-funded Marie Curie Initial Training Network r'BIRTH, by the Academy of Finland, Turku Network in Molecular Biosciences and the National Institute on Aging (US). The results are published in the Nature Publishing Group journal Molecular Psychiatry.