How an Amino Acid Can Improve Depression Treatment

  • Over a 15-year research study, scientists from the University of Florida discovered the role of GPR158, a receptor, in the development of depression.
  • They found that mice that had their GPR158 suppressed were less prone to depression caused by stress.
  • Through their study, they were also able to establish a connection between the amino acid glycine and the structure of GPR158.

Depression is a widespread condition, and despite the availability of many antidepressant medications, it remains difficult to determine the most effective one for a particular individual.

Researchers at the Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation and Technology were studying neurotransmitters and brain cell signaling to gain insight into how they work. Through over 10 years of research, they discovered a connection between an amino acid and depression, which was not the initial aim of their investigation.

The researchers are optimistic about the potential impact of their findings on the future of depression treatment. The study has been published in the journal Science.

Things to Know About Depression

Depression is a prevalent mental illness affecting millions of adults in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant rise in depression rates, even among children under 18. There are different types of depression, including situational and Major Depressive Disorder, with varying durations.

The NIMH highlights some common signs and symptoms of depression, such as persistent sadness, feeling empty, low energy levels or fatigue, sleep disturbances, and thoughts of self-harm.

Depression is a serious condition that may require treatment for individuals who experience ongoing depressive symptoms. Treatment options may include prescription medications, therapy, or lifestyle changes to help alleviate depression symptoms. Different types of antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, may be prescribed by doctors, but it is important to note that they can have side effects, including thoughts of suicide. Therefore, people taking antidepressants should regularly check in with their healthcare providers and report any such thoughts.

Brain cell receptors and depression

The researchers behind a 15-year-long study did not set out to find a link to depression. Their primary goal was to study how brain cell receptors work. However, during their research, they discovered a receptor called GPR158, which played a crucial role in stress-induced depression.

Mice who experienced suppression of this receptor were more resilient to depression. The researchers then determined the structure of GPR158 and discovered its connection to an amino acid, which could potentially lead to the development of new antidepressants.

An amino acid may be key to treating depression

Learning about the structure of GPR158 was a game-changer for the researchers.

“We were barking up the completely wrong tree before we saw the structure. We said, ‘Wow, that’s an amino acid receptor. There are only 20, so we screened them right away and only one fit perfectly … it was glycine.”

– Prof. Martemyanov.

A 2017 research review identifies glycine as a significant nonessential amino acid in humans, animals, and mammals. Scientists discovered that glycine sends signals and binds to GPR158, but were surprised to find that it acts as an inhibitor, leading to its renaming as mGlyR, or metabotropic glycine receptor.

This discovery could open new avenues of research for depression treatment, which Prof. Martemyanov plans to explore.

Expert reactions

Medical professionals, Dr. Simon Faynboym and Dr. Jessica Turner, spoke with us about the implications of this research.

Dr. Faynboym stated that while the study highlights the potential connection between glycine and taurine and their antidepressant properties, depression is a complex condition involving multiple factors and neurotransmitters.

Dr. Turner finds the paper’s proposal of targeting mGlyR receptors in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain for more effective relief of depression an exciting new development, but calls for further research to identify a way to specifically target glycine towards these receptors.


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