Scientists identify compounds that could treat depression in less than 24 hours

Scientists have identified promising compounds that could successfully treat depression in less than 24 hours with minimal side effects.

Although the compounds had not been tested in people as yet, they could offer significant advantages over current antidepressant medications.

"Our results open up a whole new class of potential antidepressant medications," said Scott Thompson, professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM).

"We have evidence that these compounds can relieve the devastating symptoms of depression in less than one day, and can do so in a way that limits some of the key disadvantages of current approaches," said Thompson.

Currently most people suffering from depression take medications that increase levels of the neurochemical serotonin in the brain.

The most common of these drugs, such as Prozac and Lexapro, were also selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

Only a third of patients with depression respond to SSRIs. Further, it also takes the drugs, between three and eight weeks to work and relieve symptoms.

Consequently, patients often suffered for months finding a medicine that made them feel better.

This was not only emotionally excruciating; in the case of patients who were suicidal, it could be deadly. According to researchers, better treatments for depression were clearly needed.

According to the researchers, although the compounds had not yet been tested in people, they could offer significant advantages over current antidepressant medications.

The compounds, called GABA-NAMs, minimised unwanted side effects as they were precise: they worked only in the parts of the brain that were essential for mood, the study said.

The compounds were tested in rats that were subjected to chronic mild stress and caused the animals to act in ways that paralleled depression in humans.

Treatment with GABA-NAMs successfully reversed experimental signs of a key symptom of depression, anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure.

Also the beneficial effects of the compounds appeared within 24 hours - much faster than the several weeks needed for most of the currently available antidepressants.

"These compounds produced the most dramatic effects in animal studies that we could have hoped for."

"It will be exciting to find out whether they produce similar effects in depressed patients. If these compounds can quickly provide relief of the symptoms of human depression, such as suicidal thinking, it could revolutionise the way patients are treated," Thompson said.

The journal Neuropsychopharmacology had published the study.