Antidepressants take effect within hours, not weeks

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A new study has revealed that antidepressants can have an effect on the brain of a patient within three hours.

Scientists came to this conclusion after testing the widely-used drug escitalopram, known as Cipralex in the UK and Lexapro in the US. The drug contains a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI).

Seratonin is known as a neurotransmitter, a chemical which carries signals between the nerve cells in the brain. According to the NHS, SSRIs allow more of the chemical to relay messages between nerve cells situated close to each other.

Previously, it was believed that SSRIs take weeks to affect a patient. However, a study done by scientists based at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, indicates that it could take as little as three hours.

During the research, the brains of volunteers who had taken escitalopram were scanned to determine the blood flow.

The results indicated that the drug reducing connectivity in most of the brain, with an increase in connectivity in the thalamus and cerebellum areas.

The leader of the study, from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, Dr Julia Sacher, said they did not expect the SSRI to have such a pronounced effect after such a short time or for the entire brain to be affected.

Although SSRIs are widely prescribed by doctors, it is not completely clear how it works.

Dr Sacher said their new findings may be an important first step toward clinical studies in patients suffering with depression. Researchers are hoping to compare the brains of patients who are recovering and those who do not respond to SSRI treatment.

Dr Sacher stated that becoming aware of the differences between the brains of individuals who are responsive to SSRIs and those who are not could aid in predicting who will benefit from this form of treatment and who may need an alternative treatment method.

She stated that their hope is to initiate better treatment decisions and to be able to tailor individualised therapies for those suffering from depression.

Image Credit: Karrie Nodalo

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