Rodent of the Week: A sad mouse makes scientists happy

Researchers have taken a big step forward in studying depression in humans because they have succeeded in improving a mouse model of the disease.

Major depression is a common, debilitating illnesses. The causes of depression are many, but studies show a strong genetic component, probably accounting for 40% to 70% of the risk for developing a major depressive disorder, said the author of a new study, Dr. George Zubenko, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Scientists led by Zubenko developed a mouse model of depression that is based on a particular genetic mutation, in the CREB1 control region, that likely causes major depression in the majority of people who inherit it. In a paper published online Thursday, the scientists described the use of genetic engineering techniques to to create a mouse that mimics the brain functioning of someone with major depression caused by this gene mutation.

The mice with the mutant gene acted depressed and carried alterations in their brain anatomy and gene expression, the researchers said. The findings provide more evidence of a genetic basis for major depression and should improve scientists’ understanding of the brain abnormalities.


“Treatments that are the most effective and produce the fewest side effects typically address the root causes of the disease,” Zubenko said in a news release. “Animal models that recapitulate those root causes should better inform us about the brain mechanisms that lead to major depressive disorder, and have the best chance of leading to advances in treatment and prevention.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics.

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