Scientists come closer to a fundamentally new approach in the treatment of depression and addiction

Scientists from NSU and the Institute of Physiology and Fundamental Medicine concluded that focusing efforts on the activity of the habenula is a potentially promising tactic for treating such psychopathological conditions as addiction and depression.

Tiny, in a person it is the size of a pea, the habenula (Latin habenula - "leash") is located in the epithelial region of the brain. The habenula is an evolutionarily ancient structure of the vertebrate animals' brain that plays a key role in managing reward system activity. Some believe that it is the habenula that makes vertebrate animals, such as the wildebeest antelope, migrate or move without thinking and ignore dangers. The results of experiments conducted on rodents are also known to show that suppression of habenula activity leads to an increase in the motor activity of animals and has a potential antidepressant effect.

The researchers note first of all the participation of the habenula in the development of addictive habits, addictions. Reduced activity of the habenula neurons leads to launching behavior associated with the search for a psychotropic substance, and the stronger the dependence, the less controllable the behavior. Psychoactive substances keep a person "on a short leash", habenula.

The reverse situation occurs with depression. This is characterized by anhedonia, that is, the lack of ability to experience pleasure, is accompanied by increased activity of habenular neurons. The habenula leash stops the purposeful behavior of a person, and he falls into a gloomy depressed state - depression.

“There are two areas of the habenula that are involved in different ways with depression and reward. It is believed that the side part of the habenula plays an important role in the processing of unpleasant events and incentives associated with remuneration. While the middle region of the habenula exercises control over motivation and remuneration processing. Activation of the side habenula is associated with depression (negative experience), and its suppression stimulates remuneration. On the other hand, the activation of the middle part of the habenula is interrelated with reward and motivation, and deactivation of the middle habenula neutralizes both processes, "explained Tatyana Lipina, Senior Researcher at the NSU Laboratory of Translational and Clinical Neuroscience IMP, affiliated with the SAU Neurosciences in Translational Medicine. The Laboratory is engaged in such areas of research as neurophysiology, neuropsychology, neurolinguistics for diagnosis, correction and therapy of diseases of the nervous system.

Tatyana Lipina is also the Head of the Laboratory of Experimental Models of Pathologies of Cognition and Emotions of the Research Institute of Physiology and Fundamental Medicine. She believes that the overall balanced work of the habenula determines mental health because the violation of motivation, reward processes and enhanced memory of negative experience leads to psychopathological conditions.

Before embarking on the treatment of human patients, a number of preclinical studies need to be carried out in order to understand the mechanisms of activation /deactivation of the habenula and how the system of reward for the brain subsequently works. Lipina said that work is currently under way to search for regulators that alter the functioning of the habenula and manifest a depressive state in laboratory mice. Step by step, researchers are approaching a fundamentally new approach to the treatment of depression and addiction. It is possible that in a few years there will be a treatment of these mental disorders with non-drug management methods of activity in the habenula.

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