Fly Study Aids in Finding the Roots of Depression
According to information from a new study that was published in the journal Current Biology, animals (including humans), “often hunker down as they develop sleep or eating disorders, ulcers, and other physical manifestations of depression.” The study was able to show that this behavior also occurs in flies.
This study was conducted by researchers hoping to better understand the biology of depression so that they could find a new way to test antidepressant medications that are used to treat depression. The researchers that conducted the study have decided that finding symptoms of depression in insects as well as people can prove that the roots of depression are very deep.
"Depressions are so devastating because they go back to such a basic property of behavior," says Martin Heisenberg of the Rudolf Virchow Center in Würzburg, Germany.
According to Heisenberg, he and a colleague talked about whether a fly could feel fear. In a related study, this study’s coauthor, Franco Bertolucci, learned that flies quickly suppress some of their innate behaviors, which is what happens when a being feels helpless. In the end, the study showed that when flies are exposed to extreme heat, they try to get away from it like every other animal. However, when the fly realizes that they can’t get away from the heat, they simply stop doing anything and react slowly, which would indicate that they were acting depressed.
The study also showed that the female flies slow down more than the male flies in stressful situations. While the meaning of that isn’t clear yet, Heisenberg explains, "if we realize that the fly trapped in a strange, dark box, unable to get rid of the dangerous heat pulses, has to find a compromise between saving energy and not missing any chance of escape, we can understand that such a compromise may come out differently for males and females, as their resources and goals in life are different."
As to whether this study will end up helping scientists better test antidepressant medications used to treat the condition (such as Paxil or Effexor), that is still to be determined. Antidepressants are generally used to treat depression and anxiety. However, the drugs have proven dangerous for most people to use. Paxil and Effexor are also known to cause serious side effects, which can include violent and suicidal thoughts and behaviors as well as birth defects in babies whose mothers take the drug while pregnant. Some of those defects include PPHN, spina bifida, neural tube defects and oral clefts. A study like this may go a long toward helping depressed patients find alternative treatments to these dangerous prescription medications.