Scientists have unravelled the link between stress, anxiety and depression.
By identifying the connecting mechanism in the brain the research shows exactly how stress and anxiety can cause depression.
Led by Stephen Ferguson of the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), the research also reveals a small molecule inhibitor developed by Ferguson, which may provide a new and better way to treat anxiety, depression and other related disorders.
The researchers used a behavioural mouse model and a series of molecular experiments to reveal the connection pathway and to test the new inhibitor.
"Our findings suggest there may be an entire new generation drugs and drug targets that can be used to selectively target depression, and therefore treat it more effectively," said Ferguson, professor in physiology and pharmacology at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at UWO.
"We have gone from mechanism to mouse, and the next step is to see whether or not we can take the inhibitor we developed, and turn it into a pharmaceutical agent," he adds.
"According to the World Health Organisation, depression, anxiety and other related mood disorders now share the dubious distinction of being the most prevalent causes of chronic illness," said Anthony Phillips, scientific director of the Institute of Neurosciences at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
"Using the power of molecular biology, Stephen Ferguson and colleagues provide novel insights that may be the key to improving the lives of so many individuals coping with these forms of mental ill health," a UWO statement quoted Phillips as saying.
While major depressive disorder often occurs together with anxiety disorder in patients, the causes for both are strongly linked to stressful experiences.
Stressful experiences can also make the symptoms of anxiety and depression more severe. The research was conducted in collaboration with Hymie Anisman at Carleton University, and funded through CIHR. The findings were published online in Nature Neuroscience.