A new study published in Current Biology found that the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – a common antidepressant – can alter brain connectivity in a matter of hours. This is particularly interesting as antidepressants often have to be used for weeks before relieving symptoms of depression and in some cases prove ineffective. No single antidepressant works universally, so those suffering from depression often have to try out several pills to find one that relieves symptoms. The findings of this study are potentially good news for the industry of pharmacy technology, as this research could help scientists and medical professionals more easily match antidepressants with patients.
Depression is a condition that affects one in 10 Americans, and less than 20 percent of those affected are receiving treatment specifically for depression.1 In the U.S., depression occurs in a higher percentage of people in specific geographical regions. Divorced and unemployed Americans are more likely to experience symptoms of clinical depression.1 Depression generally goes undiagnosed, though it can often be effectively treated with therapy and antidepressants. If scientists can develop a system for identifying the effectiveness of an antidepressant on an individual in a short duration of time, it will benefit patient care and make treatment more efficient.
In the study, scientists used MRI scans to make a 3-D model of each subject’s brain. Participants were then given a dose of SSRIs. Analyzing the whole brain before and after the dosage, researchers found that there was a widespread decrease in connectivity in the majority of cortical and subcortical areas.2 However, researchers found localized increases in the thalamus and cerebellum.2 This potentially allows medical professionals to identify if prescribing SSRIs will prove beneficial for an individual suffering from depression. More broadly, it can be used to further research how serotonin affects the brain.
According to Forbes, this could also allow scientists to compare the connectivity of those who respond and don’t respond to a duration of SSRI treatment.3 In the long run, identifying such differences will be imperative to understanding individual genetic idiosyncrasies that make SSRIs an effective treatment option in some patients and ineffective in others.
As scientists find more advanced methods for mapping out the genetic structures of individuals, therapy methods can become more personalized. One of the main challenges of developing personalized medicine, specifically in regard to mental disorders, is understanding the human brain. This research has illuminated how quickly a drug can alter the chemistry of the human brain. Moving forward, such findings may result in more rapid research and understanding of individual genetics. This information is crucial to pharmaceutical companies because it presents the opportunity to develop pills that more accurately target specific regions of the brain. In the future, pharmacy technicians will be able to create niche drugs that rely on such research to better serve those suffering from a wide range of mental symptoms.
1 “Unhappiness by the Numbers: 2012 Depression Statistics” Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/statistics-infographic
2 “Serotonergic Modulation of Intrinsic Functional Connectivity” by Alexander Schaefer, Inga Burmann, Ralf Regenthal, Katrin Arélin, Claudia Barth, André Pampel, Arno Villringer, Daniel S. Margulies, Julia Sacher. Current Biology. http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(14)01037-9
3 “Can One Dose Of Antidepressant Lead To Changes In Your Brain?” by Robert Glatter. Forbes. September 19, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2014/09/19/can-one-dose-of-antidepressant-lead-to-changes-in-your-brain/