Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a "gatekeeper" protein that may be acted upon to block the emergence of certain stress related disorder. Their research on the protein HDAC6 is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Central to the team's research are glucocorticoids, a class of natural steroids secreted during stress. Traditional antidepressant medications often work by blocking these steroids' effects on certain neuronal receptors, such as those that regulate the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Unfortunately, this often has the side effect of shutting down all the other functions that those receptors regulate.
The new research shows how regulating the glucocorticoids themselves by altering the HDAC6 protein can provide the benefits of earlier techniques without the drawbacks. The idea for the research came about when a small segment of mice exposed to stress, rather than develop a chronic dependence on antidepressants, instead spontaneously adapted a resilience to the stress. Comparing gene expression in the brains of these mice led the Pennsylvania team to discover HDAC6's role in the stress process.
Since those early mice experiments, the team has found that deletion of HDAC6 can literally switch off the glucocorticoids' deleterious effects. In addition to providing clinicians and diagnosticians another stress marker to look for, it may also be susceptible to pharmaceutical intervention, leading to a new class of antidepressant, anti-anxiety medications with fewer side effects.
Source: University of Pennsylvania