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Chinese researchers discover potential fast-acting antidepressant compound

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-10-28 16:17
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[Photo/Nanjing Medical University]

NANJING -- Chinese researchers have developed a new antidepressant compound that can work way faster than current depression treatments in animal tests.

Serotonin is a chemical messenger called a neurotransmitter to relay messages from one area of the brain to another, stabilizing mood, feelings of happiness, and well-being. Most of the current antidepressant drugs target the serotonin transporters (SERT), a group of proteins that transports serotonin to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain and have an antidepressant effect.

However, the SERT-targeted drugs could have side effects, including suicide. And it can take to up to four weeks to take effect. There is a need to develop fast-reacting antidepressant drugs without serious drawbacks.

In the latest issue of the journal Science, researchers from China's Nanjing Medical University reported that increasing the interaction between the SERT and an enzyme named nNOS can lead to depressive behavior among mice. Stress-induced depressive mice also have an enhanced level of SERT-nNOS interaction.

They designed and synthesized a small-molecule compound named ZZL-7 to target the SERT-nNOS interaction. It had an antidepressant effect two hours after treatment without undesirable side effects in mice.

The researchers explained that disrupting SERT-nNOS interaction can enhance serotonin signaling in the forebrain, the largest part of the brain. Meanwhile, the SERT-nNOS interaction is mainly located in a part of the brainstem; therefore, the effect of ZZL-7 is selective, which will not affect other parts of the brain and avoid possible side effects.

They said the compound may serve as a new, rapidly-acting treatment for depression.

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