Chronic stress, bouts of severe depression, and other mental stresses could be blocking the formation of new nerve connections while at the same time shrinking your brain.
Study lead author Professor Ronald Duman of Yale University found that people with major depressive disorder (MDD) suffer from concentration and memory loss and blunted responses, all of which likely happen because of disrupted circuits.
Researchers found that several genes needed for building synapses were disrupted in MDD sufferers. It is believed that such a disruption causes shrinkage of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, a known condition associated with MDD.
The study examined the brain tissue of MDD sufferers who had died, and researchers found molecular signs of reduced brain activity from genes needed for the function and structure of brain synapses. Researchers found that the protein called GATA1 was likely the “switch” that turned off the brains normal synaptic development. Researchers turned GATA1 on in rats and found increased signs of depression.
According to Duman:
“We wanted to test the idea that stress causes a loss of brain synapses in human…We show that circuits normally involved in emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription factor is activated.”
Researchers hope that their discovery will lead to enhanced synaptic connections which in turn could be used as a new form of behavioral therapy for depression sufferers. Further tests still need to be conducted to form a direct connection between the GATA1 gene and issues of stress and depression.
The full research study is published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Medicine.
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