In a new study, researchers found a new drug that can ease the side effects of medications for severe depression.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Copenhagen and elsewhere.
About one in five Danes are affected by depression at some point in their lives.
The severe depressions may be treated with the so-called ‘tricyclic antidepressants,’ an antidepressant drug that is more effective than the drugs used for mild and moderate depressions.
But unfortunately, the tricyclic antidepressants also have a downside: significantly more and more serious side effects.
So serious that many people stop taking the drug and thus receive no treatment for their depression.
In the study, the researchers have discovered a substance that may solve that problem.
The substance, Lu AF60097, works in a different way from the ones presently in use. If the new substance works, it may help the existing drugs get rid of the serious side effects.
Serotonin is a so-called neurotransmitter, a chemical substance found in the brain. In a person with severe depression, the level of serotonin is very low.
Antidepressant drugs make adjustments to get a higher level of active serotonin.
According to the team, the antidepressants used currently work by going in and binding to the same site as serotonin on the serotonin transporter (SERT).
The antidepressants block the return transport of serotonin and thereby also the removal of the active serotonin.
But such blockage requires a relatively large dose of the antidepressant substance. And with the tricyclic antidepressants, that causes some serious side effects.
The side effects can be anything from life-threatening heart problems to severely dry mouth, visual disorders, development of mania, weight problems and digestive challenges.
The new substance binds to another site on SERT: the ‘allosteric site.’ When a substance binds to the allosteric site rather than the same site as serotonin, it is possible to regulate the function of the serotonin transporter instead of completely blocking it.
But there is still a long way to go before the substance can be used as an actual drug.
The researchers have shown that a substance that binds to the allosteric site can have this pronounced, pharmacological effect in cells and in rats.
From here, it is up to the pharmaceutical companies to develop substances that may have the same effect on humans.
The team hopes in the future it can be used to treat people with severe depression.
The lead author of the study is Professor at the Department of Neuroscience at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Claus Juul Løland.
The study is published in Nature Communications.
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