ScienceDaily (2011-04-22) — When neurosurgeons noticed that patients with brain injuries who had been prescribed antidepressants were doing better in unexpected ways than their counterparts who were not taking such medications, scientists took a closer look. Early results in mice indicate that anti-depressants may help spur the creation and survival of new brain cells after brain injury.
Jason Huang, M.D., and colleagues undertook the study after noticing that patients with brain injuries who had been prescribed antidepressants were doing better in unexpected ways than their counterparts who were not taking such medications. Not only did their depression ease; their memory also seemed improved compared to patients not on the medication.
“We saw these patients improving in multiple ways — their depression was improved, but so were their memory and cognitive functioning. We wanted to look at the issue more, so we went back to the laboratory to investigate it further,” said Huang, associate professor of Neurosurgery and chief of Neurosurgery at Highland Hospital, an affiliate of the University of Rochester Medical Center.
The team’s findings were published online recently in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
Huang said many patients who have a traumatic brain injury also experience depression — by some estimates, half of such patients are depressed. Doctors aren’t sure whether the depression is a byproduct of the sudden, unfortunate change in circumstances that patients find themselves in, or whether the depression is a direct consequence of brain damage.
Previous research by other groups indicated that anti-depressants help generate new brain cells and keep them healthy in healthy animals. That, together with the experience of his patients, led Huang to study the effects of the anti-depressant imipramine (also known as Tofranil) on mice that had injuries to their brains.
Dr. Sarkis says:
What a wonderful finding if antidepressants not only help traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients’ depression, but also their memory and cognitive functioning. I wonder if this effect also happens with non-tricyclic antidepressants, such as SSRIs and SNRIs.