The world has not been the same since the Covid-19 pandemic.The WHO estimates that number to increase by 20% every year, leading to a staggering 160 million cases worldwide by 2030.
This is an alarming statistic because depression carries many debilitating health consequences and can lead to death if left untreated.
Our best efforts to fight the disease have been limited, due to a misguided understanding of what causes depression. In fact, scientists do not even know why some people suffer from major depressive disorder and others don’t.
Nevertheless, scientists all over the world are studying this pandemic in order to find ways of treating or preventing it from taking further victims.
New research is emerging almost daily in the fight to make depressive disorder a thing of the past.
Scientists working at University College London have made an astonishing discovery, which could drastically change how depression is treated. A team of neuroscientists led by Shankar Mahanthappa took up this challenge with curiosity and dedication. They managed to discover that depressive disorder originates from genetic variations in a neurotransmitter known as the GABA system. This system was previously overlooked by scientists, yet it plays an important role in controlling our moods.
The team started off with the common understanding that depression is usually caused by imbalances between two types of brainwaves – alpha waves and beta waves. Alpha waves originate in the occipital lobe and beta waves originate in the prefrontal cortex. Scientists have already associated alpha waves with relaxation and beta waves with arousal. However, there is a third type of brainwaves that controls these two – gamma brainwaves. Gamma brainwaves activate both alpha and beta waves which results in cognitive processes such as improved memory, creativity, problem-solving, etc.
These brainwaves are activated when our neurons are in sync with each other, sending electric pulses at regular intervals. This synchronization could be caused by the neurotransmitter GABA. According to this theory, depression is triggered by a lack of gamma brainwaves synthesis because of reduced GABA levels or poor transmission along the GABA neuron pathway.
The team at UCL conducted an experiment with GABA levels in mice to prove their hypothesis. They were able to reduce depressive-like behaviors in the mice by simply injecting them with a GABA-b receptor agonist, causing gamma brainwaves to be transmitted along the GABA neuron pathway. Symptoms of depression included lack of interest in sugar water, social withdrawal, decreased motivation to venture out in open spaces and lack of interest in their surroundings.
The experiment is still in its early stages, but the discovery could be a light at the end of depression’s tunnel. Understanding what causes depressive disorder can lead to more effective treatments or even preventative measures that would spare millions from suffering from this pandemic.
Scientists are on the right track. One day, depression could be no more than a footnote in medical history books.