Running depression out of our lives

Feeling down? Go for a run and put your genes to work. According to a new Yale study, the well-known antidepressant effects of exercise may be due to genes in the brain that are switched on by physical activity.

In the December 2007 issue of Nature Medicine, former graduate student Joshua Hunsberger, Ph.D., and a team led by Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D., Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Pharmacology, reports that exercise reduced depression-like behavior in mice and also boosted the activity of a gene called VGF in the hippocampus, a brain region that has been strongly implicated in depression in humans.

Mice given free access to a running wheel had higher levels of VGF expression in the hippocampus than sedentary mice. These results were bolstered by experiments showing that infusing a synthetic form of VGF directly into the hippocampus had potent antidepressant effects; conversely, mice in which the VGF gene had been knocked down showed more depression-like behavior than those with the gene.

The authors say that the development of new therapies that target VGF could have “superior efficacy to existing chemical antidepressants.”


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