Star-shaped cells could be a depression solution

Perhaps counterintuitively, sleep deprivation can actually reverse low mood fast in severe depression in more than half of patients, but as an approach it's not practical, long-lasting, or even very pleasant. However, researchers at Tufts University have found a way to use a drug to re-create this effect in preclinical trials, revealing a potential target for therapeutics that could be used as quick fixes in urgent psychiatric situations.

Depression affects around 1 in 10 adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and medications can take a few weeks to a few months to kick in, which is no use in an emergency. Star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes regulate the response to sleep deprivation by releasing neurotransmitters that are part of the sleep-wake cycle. The Tufts researchers used this as a lead to see if targeting astrocyte signaling, particularly adenosine, might have an effect on depression.

The researchers gave the molecule CCPA, which is an adenosine receptor agonist, to mouse models of depression three times over the course of the night. While the mice still slept, the drug mimicked the effects of sleep deprivation, rapidly reducing the depression-type symptoms. The effects lasted for 48 hours. The results were published in Translational Psychiatry.

"Potentially, new drugs that target this mechanism may provide rapid relief for psychiatric emergencies, as well as long-term alleviation of chronic depressive symptoms," said Naomi Rosenberg of the Tufts University School of Medicine in a release.

Startup GliaCure, founded by one of the authors of the paper, has licensed a pending patent application based on this signaling cascade.

- read the press release
- see the paper