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Depression a virus?

Posted by Pegasus on June 8, 1999, at 4:08:20

Here's an interesting story that appeared on ABC news Monday night, 6/7/99.
Anybody have any more info on these theories?

B E T H E S D A, Md., June 7 — There is
an eternal half-light in which a
depressed person seems to live.
“I call it a hole in my soul,” says one
such person. “You don’t see the point, when there’s
no happy anymore.”
Doctors have long known that depression is not
just a dark mood or a deficit of character, that it’s an
illness, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
But just what are its roots?

Inside the Depressed Brain
Until a few years ago, researchers mostly thought the
problem was biochemical — a shortage, perhaps, of
mood hormones such as serotonin. Today the picture
is much more complex.
One of the keys to depression lies on the left side
of the brain, about two inches in from the forehead,
in an area called the “prefrontal cortex.”
The prefrontal cortex is important because it
helps keep negative emotions under control. But in a
depressed person, it may be as much as 40 percent
smaller than in the average brain.
“In people with at least some types of
depression,” says Dr. Wayne Drevets of the
University of Pittsburgh, “they have abnormalities
not only of the function of the brain, but also of the
structure of the brain.”
A possible reason is that depressed patients have
fewer “glia” there — the cells that supply the brain
with nourishment from the bloodstream. In other
words, the brain may literally be low on power when
depression strikes.
“It affects many, many systems in the body,”
says Dr. Richard Post of the National Institutes of
Mental Health. “Which goes along with the
symptoms of depression that people have: trouble
thinking and concentrating, changes in appetite,
changes in motor activity.”

New Treatments, Better Results
This growing body of knowledge is giving doctors
more ways to help patients:
They have better ideas about why antidepressant
drugs work.
They’re developing more drugs, which is
important, since 20 percent of patients are not helped
by the existing medicines.
And at the National Institutes of Health here in
Maryland, they’re working on magnetic stimulation.
The right amount of magnetism may somehow
restore the power the depressed brain lacks.
The ammunition for battling depression is
“greater, more varied and with fewer side effects,”
says Post.
The work is only in early stages. But it seems to
prove that depression is a brain malfunction doctors
can correct; that soon the half-light for many patients
will begin to brighten.

Viruses on the Brain
The key to a revolution in psychiatry may lie in
a deep freeze at the Stanley Research
Foundation in Maryland. Stored here are
pieces of brain, sliced paper thin to let
researchers see what’s inside. And what they
believe they are seeing are viruses that trigger
mental illness.
“In very concrete terms, we are actually
thinking that you have a chronic infection in
the brain,” explains Dr. E. Fuller Torrey,
executive director of the foundation. “You
have viruses in the brain cells that have
changed the chemistry of the cells.”
For 25 years, Torrey has been on a quest
to find the viruses he believes trigger
schizophrenia and manic depression.
The theory is simple: Common viruses can
sleep harmlessly in the brain, but can awaken
when we are stressed or have a drop in our
immune system. When that happens, a virus
can begin to inflame brain cells.
Scientists are not sure why this happens,
but they say some people are more
genetically susceptible to the process.
“When I started it,,” Torrey says, “ it
seemed fairly outrageous to most of my
colleagues. But I must admit, it’s almost
respectable now.”
So respectable that within a year a trial
study will begin to add antiviral drugs to the
medications for a small number of patients
with schizophrenia and manic depression.
“Our eventual goal,” says Dr. Robert
Yolken of the Johns Hopkins Medical School,
“would really be to see if we could prevent or
treat these diseases — particularly
schizophrenia — by using one of these
anti-viral agents.”
Yolken has joined Torrey to prove the
theory and, if they are right, bring relief for a
devastating disease.




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