Breakthrough brain research could boost treatment of depression

A research breakthrough could lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatments for people with depression.

Scientists have identified a specific protein which they say plays a crucial role in the generation of brain neurons.

Queen’s University Belfast academic Dr Vijay Tiwari said the disruption of the protein can lead to intellectual disability.

“Our study reveals the key role this protein plays during the birth of probably one of the most important cells in our body – the neuron,” he said.

“We hope this discovery will pave the way for earlier diagnosis, earlier interventions and better treatment for people with a brain disorder, such as depression,” Dr Tiwari, a reader at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, added.

A team led by Queen’s in collaboration with the Centre for Regenerative Therapies Dresden in Germany, has discovered how the specific protein plays a crucial role in the generation of neurons at a specific time and location during brain development.

The findings were published on Thursday in the Genes & Development journal.

It is expected this breakthrough will have a major impact on the fundamental understanding of brain development and lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatments for people with certain brain disorders, the research authors said.

Brain development is a highly complex process that involves generating various types of cells at defined time points and locations during embryonic development.

Any kind of interference during these processes is known to cause diseases.

Neurons are the working unit of the brain, designed to transmit information to other nerve cells and various tissues in the body, such as the muscles, as well as storage of memory in our brain.

While the field has rapidly advanced, the mechanisms creating the birth of neurons from their mother cells – called neural stem cells – has not historically been well understood.

To conduct their study, the researchers looked at brain samples to determine the development of various cell types.

They found that removal of protein Phf21b stopped the production of neurons from neural stem cells and led to severe defects in brain development.

The researchers also found the importance of this protein, in particular to the folding of DNA in cells going on to form neurons.

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