GABA-NAM: Revolutionary Antidepressant with 24-Hour Effectiveness
Current antidepressants focus on normalizing serotonin, norepinephrine and/or dopamine levels in the body, which are low in depressed patients. Those based on the serotonin neurotransmitter are the safest and most often prescribed by doctors. Given its role in the regulation of numerous functions, such as sleep, mood, appetite or memory, it is believed that low levels of serotonin lead to a depressive state. A vast class of reuptake inhibitors has been synthesized to address this issue. Unfortunately, they show mediocre results against depression, being more effective only in severe cases of major depressive disorder. However, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine may have uncovered a light at the end of the tunnel: 'GABA-NAM' compounds could be the key to win the fight against depression.
Pitfalls of current antidepressants
It is thought that the balance between excitatory and inhibitory states of communication between neurons regulates brain activity. In the case of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) medications, serotonin works by increasing the excitatory states, which are very low in people with depression. This has the downside of frequently causing side effects, which causes patients to give up on the treatment. There is ongoing debate about the efficacy of this method because it doesn't regulate the brain's excitatory states safely or precisely enough. Current antidepressants only work for one-third of patients and may take up to eight weeks to have the desired effects, which can be fatal for people with suicidal tendencies.
A 2015 study, headed by Dr. Scott Thompson, focused on another neurotransmitter: GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Dr. Thompson's team tried to decrease the inhibitory activity of the neurotransmitter in the brain so that excitatory states could become stronger, which should reduce or eliminate depressive symptoms. Experimenting with animals, scientists found that use of GABA resulted in a significantly faster and safer treatment: the new GABA-NAM compounds worked without creating side effects because they act only in the brain regions that need repair. The first tests were conducted on 'stressed rats', which displayed symptoms similar to human depression. When GABA-NAMs were administered, the symptoms disappeared in less than 24 hours. Promisingly, GABA-NAMs administered to unstressed rats produced no visible effects.
A new treatment that can save lives
Ketamine drugs have also produced ultra-fast results in humans, but their effects have only been temporary. Scientists hope to run GABA-NAM antidepressant trials on human patients. Dr. Thompson highlights that if they prove effective in humans, GABA-NAM compounds could revolutionize the treatment of depression, eliminating symptoms very quickly and with far fewer side effects. The breakthrough promises a much higher quality of life for chronically ill people who often fall into depression, saving countless lives among the suicidal.
According to the WHO, 350 million people suffer from depression globally. By 2030, the organization predicts that depression will be the most disabling health condition in the world.