Weight Control Hormone Shows Promise as Antidepressant
> 1/20/2006 10:10:00 AM

Leptin, a protein hormone secreted by fatty tissue cells, has been understood by doctors and researchers since its discovery in 1994 as a key ingredient in regulating fat stores and thereby hunger and obesity.  Studies, like this one from the Journal of the American Medical Association, have shown the part that leptin can play in combating obesity.

Now, however, researchers have discovered that leptin may have another use--fighting depression.  An article on Forbes.com yesterday describes research published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Leptin appears to be like other hormones that play more than one role in the brain, said Richard Simerly, director of the Neuroscience Program at the Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "They alter the way brain circuits function, and they do this not in just the areas that you'd expect."

The research centered on tests performed on rats to see how leptin effected their moods in different situations.

In one test, the researchers stressed the mice in a way designed to create effects similar to human stress. The researchers exposed the mice to electric shocks, water immersion, restraints, solitary confinement and overcrowding. The leptin levels in the mice dropped, suggesting it has some connection to stress.

In another test, also designed to cause stress, the researchers forced the mice to swim long distances, a grueling task that can induce a kind of hopelessness similar to depression in humans. The mice given leptin were less likely to give up and fall into "despair."

Researchers stopped short of saying that leptin could help treat depression, but the results of these tests show that the hormone has a great deal of promise.  Further research will be necessary to determine if the connections between stress, mood and leptin levels can be exploited to treat depressive disorders.

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