To figure out a better treatment for depression and de-addiction, there is still a lot to be understood about the brain, said Professor Eric Nestler, director of the Brain Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Centre, New York on Tuesday.
“We still don’t know enough of the brain. There is a lot of basic research going on how the brain functions in the case of drug addiction and depression. But we can’t say there will be a targeted treatment in one month or even a year. It will take a long time,” said Nestler, who has been working on the neurobiology of depression and drug abuse in rodents, rats and mice for two decades.
Speaking to HT at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) he said that while drug usage varies across countries, depression is universal with five per cent of the worldwide population being severely depressed.
“Drug abuse and depressions are prevalent illnesses that alter pattern of gene expression and the current treatment is inadequate. So, we are studying mechanisms underlying them to create a roadmap for effective treatment that can target specific genes that interfere in the process,” said Nestler.
“It is believed that social interactions cause addiction. But half the risk is genetic similar to cholesterol or diabetes. Research is on to find addiction risk genes.” According to him, the other half is due to stress, pressure situations and sexual abuse – the more subtle reasons.
From talking on parts of the brain related to addiction and why the brain has such regions, the Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience will also touch upon how drug abuse corrupts areas of the brain.
“Drugs such as cocaine and Ecstasy decrease the size of nerve cells that makes the chemical messenger dopamine to lower the functioning of these cells,” he said. Addicts are also less receptive to natural rewards like food, sex and social interactions and depend on drugs.
(Nestler will give a public lecture on the ‘Biology of Addiction’ on February 4 at the TIFR at 5 pm)