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 September 29, 2003
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Antidepressants Protect Brain from Shrinking
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(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Antidepressant drugs taken to combat major depression may be protecting an important area of the brain from shrinking, report researchers publishing in this month's American Journal of Psychiatry.

The hippocampus is a region of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Studies have shown depression tends to make the region smaller, and animal studies have suggested antidepressants can counter that trend.

In this study, investigators from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis used MRI scans to evaluate hippocampal volumes in 38 women between ages 23 and 86 years who had suffered at least five major episodes of depression during their lifetimes. The women were also interviewed to determine how long each episode lasted and whether or not it was treated with antidepressants. Researchers then compared the women's hippocampal volumes based on their use of antidepressant drugs.

The study shows women who had a history of more days on antidepressants had less hippocampal shrinkage than those with fewer days on the medications.

Investigators believe these findings hold important implications for the treatment of depression. Yvette I. Sheline, M.D., says, "Our results suggest that if a woman takes antidepressants whenever she is depressed, depression would have less effect on the volume of her hippocampus. It is the untreated days that seem to affect hippocampal volumes."

Since major depression has a high rate of recurrence, with as many as 80 percent of all patients experiencing another episode within five years of initial treatment, long-term use of antidepressants may also be advisable, report the authors.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: http://www.ivanhoe.com/newsalert/.

SOURCE: American Journal of Psychiatry, 2003;160:1-3

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