Stress-Induced Depression Is Real

Illustration for article titled Stress-Induced Depression Is Real

Stress breeds depression. Anecdotally, we all know that's the case, but scientifically speaking it's been a hypothesis that has until now remained unproven. A new study, however, reveals that chronic stress affects us at the genetic level, in turn creating very real brain changes associated with depression.

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A team of researchers from Yale University has been studying how rats react to chronic, unpredictable stress. To do that, they subjected a group of rats to food and play deprivation, isolated them from other rodents, and switched around their day-night cyles for three weeks. Eventually, the rats were left with little interest in food or enjoying a sweetened drink, and didn't swim when placed in water—all signs of rodent depressions.

Then, the researchers focused on their gene activity. In particular, the team found that the neuritin gene—also present in humans—was much less active compared to the control population. Part of the depressed group of rodents responded well to anti-depressants, quickly recovering. The same, however, was also true if the researchers stimulated production of neuritin by injecting the rats with a virus that triggered the gene's expression.

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Perhaps most interesting is the fact that stimulating the production of neuritin also protected the rats from structural brain changes seen in mood disorders—which can't be said of all anti-depressants. Previous research has shown that depression causes shrinking of the hippocampus and general decline in neuron health, both of which were prevented by the promotion of neuritin production. The findings are published in PNAS.

The results add serious weight to the idea that stress can directly bring about depression. Perhaps most importantly, it offers hope for the production of future anti-depressants. Currently, only 30 percent of people with stress-related mood disorders achieve full recovery when using existing anti-depressants—and a neuritin-based approach could help boost that figure significantly. [PNAS via Science]

Image by Lichtmeister/Shutterstock

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DISCUSSION

I am currently out of work, and my landlord has a very noisy family upstairs. I don't know which came first, the lethargy or the inability to crave food, the sleepless nights or the general disgust with all that is around me. The most detrimental part of stress induced depression has been the later. It is very pervasive and sneaks up on you as well as changing from day to day. All hope seems lost, even though I know in my mind its not. I have been exercising a lot lately and that helps. I still can't figure why my brains stopped producing the correct amount of endorphins, but I assume its some sort of "possum effect" That is why getting going is so important. Good luck to all of you out there with this nasty little bump in the road!