Scientists have found the “misery molecule,” otherwise known as the molecule in the brain that is responsible for feelings like stress, anxiety, and depression.
While the pituitary gland has long been known as a key player in stress and anxiety, a new study narrowed in on the molecule that releases the hormones responsible for the feelings.
The study discovered that the protein receptor CRF1 releases molecules that can cause anxiety and even long-term depression, reports The Independent.
The study was conducted by Heptares Therapeutics and was published in the journal Nature on July 17. In it, scientists used one of the world’s most powerful X-ray machines to identify the misery molecule. The Diamond Light Source was used to understand the molecule’s structure.
Along with understanding more about depression and its causes, the X-ray machine was able to help researchers find a crevice in the protein’s structure that could become a new target for drug therapy.
The Australian notes that Dr. Fiona Marshall, chief scientific officer at Heptares Therapeutics, explained of the misery molecule’s discovery:
“Stress-related diseases such as depression and anxiety affect a quarter of adults each year… what we have done is tow work out [the molecule’s] structure, which tells us how it works and, potentially, means we can design drugs to control it.”
The molecule lives in the outer membranes of our pituitary cells. It looks for stress molecules released by the hypothalamus. When it detects one, it activates the parent cell, which in turn released hormones that can cause anxiety and depression over time. Dr. Marshall added that the machine illuminated the shape of the molecule, which will allow drug researchers to design a molecule to fit like a puzzle piece and block it.
In essence, drug companies may soon be able to create a much more effective anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. The company now hopes to use the same procedure to analyze the molecules involved in causing type 2 diabetes.
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