Serotonin: Scientists unmask the dark side of the ‘happy hormone’-Prelims-2017

  • It is known as one of the “happy hormones” and its discovery ultimately led to the development of what were hailed as depression ‘wonder drugs’ like Prozac.
  • But, despite being prescribed as a treatment for anxiety, these ‘SSRI’ drugs designed to boost levels of serotonin in the brain had a strange and mysterious side-effect. In some cases, they initially made people feel more anxious or even suicidal.
  • Now a new study, published in the journal Nature, has found that, contrary to the popular view serotonin only promotes good feelings, it also has a darker side. 
  • Researchers in the US delivered a mild shock to the paws of mice and found this activated neurons that produce serotonin in an area of the brain known to be involved in mood and depression.
  • Artificially increasing these neurons’ activity also appeared to make the mice anxious.
  • Using sophisticate equipment to monitor the mice’s brains, the scientists, from North Carolina University’s medical school, then mapped what they described as an “essential” serotonin-driven circuit “governing fear and anxiety”.
  • Professor Thomas Kash, one of the researchers, said: “The hope is that we’ll be able to identify a drug that inhibits this circuit and that people could take for just the first few weeks of SSRI use to get over that hump.
  • “More generally, this finding gives us a deeper understanding of the brain networks that drive anxiety and fear behaviour in mammals.”
  • According to the NHS website, SSRIs are “usually the first choice medication for depression” because they “generally have fewer side effects”.
  • “These can be troublesome at first, but they’ll generally improve with time,” it says. 
  • It says the “common side effects” of the drugs can include: “Feeling agitated, shaky or anxious; feeling or being sick; dizziness; blurred vision; low sex drive; difficulty achieving orgasm during sex or masturbation; in men, difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection.”
  • The US researchers said the next step was to find out whether the same serotonin brain circuitry exists in humans.
Source: The Independent

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