Sleep deprivation is known as an efficient way to treat depression, boosting the moods of patients 60 to 70 percent of the time—a number far exceeding existing drugs. Unfortunately, those boosts are short-lived and in the long-run sleep deprivation is impractical. To solve this, researchers have been studying the phenomenon in an effort to understand the cellular mechanisms behind depression and remission. Now, a research team from Tufts University is pointing to glia.
The researchers previously discovered the astrocytes regulate the brain chemicals tied to sleepiness. According to Scientific American:
During our waking hours, astrocytes continuously release the neurotransmitter adenosine, which builds up in the brain and causes “sleep pressure,” the feeling of sleepiness and its related memory and attention impairments. The neurotransmitter causes this pressure by binding to adenosine receptors on the outside of neurons like a key fitting into a lock. As more adenosine builds up, more receptors are triggered, and the urge to sleep gets stronger.
In the new study, published online January 15 in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the scientists investigated whether this process is responsible for the antidepressant effects of sleep deprivation. Mice with depressive-like symptoms were administered three doses of a compound that triggers adenosine receptors, thus mimicking sleep deprivation. Although the mice continued to sleep normally, after 12 hours they showed a rapid improvement in mood and behavior, which lasted for 48 hours.
The results confirm that adenosine buildup plays a major role in the antidepressant effects of sleep deprivation. If scientists can find a way to chemically mimic sleep deprivation, we could harness the benefits on a larger scale. This could offer immediate relief from depression, in contrast from traditional anti-depressants which can take weeks to take effect.
“We now know that glia play an important role in the control of brain function and have the potential to aid in the development of new treatments for many illnesses, including depression and sleep disorders,” Dustin Hines, lead author of the study, notes.
Source: Scientific American, Health.howstuffworks.com