Brain News You Can Use (May, 2013)

By Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D., BCN-Fellow, QEEGT

Depression Stems from Miscommunication Between Brain Cells: Study Challenges Role of Serotonin in Depression

New research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine presents a shift in the understanding of how depression is caused and how it should be treated. Now scientists believe that depression is caused by a disturbance in the ability of brain cells or neurons to communicate with each other. The focus should shift from the amounts of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain to looking at how the transmission of excitatory signals between brain cells becomes abnormal in depression.

Dr. Scott M Thompson, Ph.D. published his team's results in the March 17 issue of Nature Neuroscience. Data for 2005 to 2008 from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that about 1 out of 10 people in the United States was treated for depression and about twice as many women as men were treated. Most people were treated with an antidepressant such as Prozac or Zoloft. These medications called SSRIs work by preventing the brain cells or neurons from absorbing serotonin, resulting in an increase in concentration of serotonin in the space between the cells. These medications are only effective in about half of the people who use them. For more than 50 years, it was believed that an insufficient level of serotonin was the cause of depression but the new study challenges that explanation.

The study found that serotonin had a previously unknown ability to improve the communication between the cells. The concentration of serotonin was not the key to improvement in depression but the support it gives the cells by strengthening the excitatory connections between cells. The observation that sustained improvement of communications between brain cells is one of the major processes in memory and learning. The altered excitatory function could explain why depressed people have trouble making decisions, concentrating and remembering details.

A major finding of the study was that serotonin had the ability to strengthen the communications between brain cells so that excitatory interactions in areas of the brain which are important for emotional and cognitive functions were improved and the strength of the connections could improve brain function.

"Although more work is needed, we believe that a malfunction of excitatory connections is fundamental to the origins of depression and that restoring normal communication in the brain, something that serotonin apparently does in successfully treated patients, is critical to relieving symptoms of this devastating disease," explains Dr. Thompson.

Note from Dr. Durgin: Neurofeedback strengthens connectivity between brain cells by rewarding the brain for increasing excitatory connections between areas of the brain using operant conditioning or behavior modification. The brain is rewarded using various combinations of visual, auditory and tactile reinforcements for improved performance. This type of brain training has been successfully used to reduce and/or eliminate depression, improve memory and learning, and reduce hyperactivity without drugs for over 40 years.


Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D. has been providing neurofeedback and biofeedback at Neurofeedback Associates Inc since 2000. She previously worked in mental health and developmental disabilities services for 18 years. Dr. Durgin offers the most advanced treatment services in the field in order to offer individualized client centered solutions to improve brain and life performance.

Published in Natural Triad, May, 2013


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