New Treatment for Depression-Linked Memory Loss

February 27, 2019

A group of researchers at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have recently developed therapeutic compounds that may be used to treat depression linked and age-related memory loss. Currently, there are few effective treatments for the cognitive implications of mental illness. The new medications are unique for specifically acting on the impaired brain receptors that have been identified or associated with memory loss. This new tactic involves understanding specific brain chemistry and molecular anatomy. This new approach has been shown to be more effective at treating mental health disorders due to its increased specificity and use of modern understandings and findings.

GABA (produced by GABAergic neurons pictured here) is a neurotransmitter associated with muscle contractions

The research team led by Dr. Etienne Sibille, Deputy Director of the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at CAMH, synthesized findings from multiple different studies on the brain. They focused on investigating the GABA neurotransmitter system and the role that certain damage had on patients’ memory and overall cognitive function. From their identification and understanding of the impaired receptors, they were able to modify benzodiazepines to activate the receptors in the GABA system that were not functioning properly. Benzodiazepines are traditionally used as anti-anxiety medication, but used currently are not highly targeting and have a sedative effect on patients. Their modification allows more specific and predictable binding. These interactions are more effective and more permanent than current treatments, by reducing side effects from over medication and medication that is too general.

After manufacturing the compound, the molecule was tested in a preclinical setting looking at stress-induced memory loss, the kind that would result from depression, aging, and other mental health conditions. Testing found that thirty minutes after dosing of the drug, memory performance was back at normal levels. The study found a high level of reproducibility with performance returning around the 80% mark over 15 times. The study continued for two months, where daily dosing was shown to hold the improvement for the duration of the study.

Analysis and patient observation also showed promising results. Where traditional medications have only been shown to alleviate some symptoms, the new molecule was shown to actually modify and correct brain function. These developments are very promising as researchers hope to extend treatment to more extreme cases of memory loss related to aging, like in Alzheimer’s disease. With hopes to prevent major memory loss and delay onset, the development of drugs that better target the brain’s mechanisms and specific cells, help push the boundary for treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.

Marisa Lazarus

Marisa Lazarus is a staff writer for the Colonial Scope. She is a freshman from Manalapan, New Jersey majoring in Biology. Marisa is excited to get involved in research at GWU and aspires to pursue medicine as a physician. In addition to the Undergraduate Review, she is a member of the GW Robotics team and the Rocket Team.

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