Western Ontario logoStress in our daily lives could have vast implications on our health. A latest study by experts at The University of Western Ontario sheds light on the biological link between stress, anxiety and depression. Yes, the three appear to be related as per the new findings.

The novel analysis claims to have recognized the connecting means in the brain. Led by Stephen Ferguson of Robarts Research Institute, the discovery reveals how exactly stress and anxiety could result in depression. It additionally also brings to the fore a small molecule inhibitor developed by Ferguson which could offer a new and better way to treat anxiety, depression and related disorders.

For the study, Ferguson, Ana Magalhaes and colleagues employed a behavioural mouse model. With a range of molecular experiments, they tried to reveal the connection pathway and looked at testing the new inhibitor. The study was carried on in collaboration with Hymie Anisman at Carleton University while it was funded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

“Our findings suggest there may be an entire new generation of drugs and drug targets that can be used to selectively target depression, and therefore treat it more effectively, ” comments Ferguson, director of the Molecular Brain Research Group at Robarts, and a professor in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “We’ve gone from mechanism to mouse, and the next step is to see whether or not we can take the inhibitor we developed, and turn it into a pharmaceutical agent.”

Experts suggest that the linking mechanism in the analysis includes the interaction between corticotropin releasing factor receptor 1 (CRFR1) and specific types of serotonin receptors (5-HTRs). Though, the two receptors have not been connected on a molecular level before, the study shares that CRFR1 functions to elevate the number of 5-HTRs on cell surfaces in the brain. This in turn could lead to abnormal brain signaling.

Seemingly distinct processes in the brain connect stress, anxiety and depression pathways. The study reveals that it could be due to CRFR1 activation which may lead to anxiety in response to stress, and 5-HTRs could result in depression. Critically in mice, the inhibitor modeled by the Ferguson lab appeared to obstruct 5-HTRs in the pathway to fight anxious behaviour, and potentially depression. Major depressive disorder is known to occur with anxiety disorder in patients; however the reasons for both are apparently linked strongly to experiences that may be stressful.

Moreover, stressful experiences could also increase the severity of symptoms of anxiety and depression. Reportedly, the findings offer the first biological evidence for a connection between stress, anxiety and depression thanks to its discovery and then blocking of the pathway responsible for the association. Besides, it also seems to pave the path for the development of a potential drug that may present individuals with more effective treatment.

The findings are published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience.