Okay, seriously geeky title, I know, but this is some cool research. I am completely unconvinced that SSRI antidepressants actually treat depression through the serotonin pathways - there has never been a single quality study showing a link between serotonin levels and depression.
BUT, these drugs do appear to stimulate neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) in the hippocampus, one of the important brain centers in memory and emotional processing.
This new study pins down exactly how that process works at a molecular level.
Citation: Pechnick RN, Zonis S, Wawrowsky K, Cosgayon R, Farrokhi C, et al. (2011) Antidepressants Stimulate Hippocampal Neurogenesis by Inhibiting p21 Expression in the Subgranular Zone of the Hipppocampus. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27290. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027290
Antidepressants Stimulate Hippocampal Neurogenesis by Inhibiting p21 Expression in the Subgranular Zone of the Hipppocampus
Robert N. Pechnick, Svetlana Zonis, Kolja Wawrowsky, Rosemarie Cosgayon, Catherine Farrokhi, Liliana Lacayo, Vera Chesnokova
The relationships among hippocampal neurogenesis, depression and the mechanism of action of antidepressant drugs have generated a considerable amount of controversy. The cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk) inhibitor p21Cip1 (p21) plays a crucial role in restraining cellular proliferation and maintaining cellular quiescence. Using in vivo and in vitro approaches the present study shows that p21 is expressed in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus in early neuronal progenitors and in immature neurons, but not in mature neurons or astroglia. In vitro, proliferation is higher in neuronal progenitor cells derived from p21-/- mice compared to cells derived from wild-type mice. Proliferation is increased in neuronal progenitor cells after suppression of p21 using lentivirus expressing short hairpin RNA against p21. In vivo, chronic treatment with the non-selective antidepressant imipramine as well as the norepinephrine-selective reuptake inhibitor desipramine or the serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitor fluoxetine all decrease p21 expression, and this was associated with increased neurogenesis. Chronic antidepressant treatment did not affect the expression of other Cdk inhibitors. Untreated p21-/- mice exhibit a higher degree of baseline neurogenesis and decreased immobility in the forced swim test. Although chronic imipramine treatment increased neurogenesis and reduced immobility in the forced swim test in wild-type mice, it reduced neurogenesis and increased immobility in p21-/- mice. These results demonstrate the unique role of p21 in the control of neurogenesis, and support the hypothesis that different classes of reuptake inhibitor-type antidepressant drugs all stimulate hippocampal neurogenesis by inhibiting p21 expression.
You can read the whole study online.