This article was first published on The Times of Israel and was re-posted with permission.
A paper by Israeli brain researchers suggests a new direction for studying and treating depression.
Prof. Raz Yirmiya, who heads Hebrew University’s psychoneuroimmunology laboratory, is the senior author of a new paper, “Depression as a microglial disease,” published in the October issue of Trends in Neurosciences.
The paper urges a new focus in depression research away from neurons, the cells that make up the brain’s thinking faculties and allow it to control the body, and toward brain cells called microglia.
About 10 percent of brain cells are microglia, which serve as a kind of infrastructure for the brain, holding neurons in place, passing oxygen and other nutrients to them and fighting brain infections.
Microglia play a special role in repairing brain damage and trauma to neurons, the researchers note.
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“Our views on microglia have dramatically changed over the last decade,” Yirmiya said in a Thursday statement by Hebrew University.
“We now know that these cells play a role in the formation and fine-tuning of the connections between neurons [known as synapses] during brain development, as well as in changes [to] these connections throughout life. These roles are important for normal brain and behavioral functions, including pain, mood and cognitive abilities.”
According to Yirmiya, who wrote the paper together with fellow Hebrew University researchers Neta Rimmerman and Ronen Reshef, “Studies in humans, using post-mortem brain tissues or special imaging techniques, as well as studies in animal models of depression, demonstrated that when the structure and function of microglia change, these cells can no longer regulate normal brain and behavior processes and this can lead to depression.”
Major depression “afflicts one in six people at some point in their life,” the university’s statement on the new research noted, and is “the leading global cause of disability – surpassing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer and HIV/AIDS combined.”
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