Serotonin's secret ability helps antidepressants like Effexor to function

A new study points to a cause for depression and hope for the future.

Findings from a recent study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine may indicate a major shift in the way depression is viewed. Instead of focusing on levels of chemicals in the brain, the study suggests that depression results from miscommunication between brain cells.

The first major finding of the study was a previously unknown ability of serotonin. In the past, it's been thought that low levels of serotonin might be the cause of depression. However, previous studies have indicated that the serotonin-based theory of depression might be an oversimplification, according to Ethan Perlstein, Ph.D.

"Serotonin amplifies excitatory interactions in brain regions important for emotional and cognitive function and apparently helps to make sure that crucial conversations between neurons get heard," said Scott M. Thompson, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and senior author of the research.

In other words, when the brain is trying to send a message, serotonin functions as a megaphone. As increased communication between brain cells is one of the major processes underlying learning and memory, these findings could explain why people suffering from depression have difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions.

The study also revealed that serotonin's ability to strengthen connections was necessary for antidepressants like Effexor to work.