A new study conducted by Yale scientists was released that shows how depression shrinks the brain. The study appears to be a follow-up of previous studies that showed that brain shrinkage and depression are linked. At this point, scientists believe that GATA1, which is a genetic switch that “causes the regulation for the expression of numerous genes that are necessary for the connections in the brain” is what causes the brain shrinkage when the connections don’t properly form.

“We wanted to test the idea that stress causes a loss of brain synapses in humans,” study researcher Ronald Duman, a professor in neurobiology, pharmacology and psychiatry at Yale, said in a statement. “We show that circuits normally involved in emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription factor is activated.”

This test was conducted on rats by various researchers including Ronald Duman, Bhavya Voleti, Pawel Licznerski, Ashley Lepack and Mounira Banasr. The results are published in the August 12 issue of Nature Medicine. Duman is suggesting that these genetic variations in GATA1 might be able to help doctors in identifying patients who are at a higher risk of suffering from major depression or stress sensitivity.

“We hope that by enhancing synaptic connections, either with novel medications or behavioral therapy, we can develop more effective antidepressant therapies,” Duman said.

Depressed patients are often treated with antidepressant medications like Paxil and Effexor, which have been linked to violent and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Other serious side effects of the drugs include birth defects in babies whose mothers take the drugs while pregnant. Some of the birth defects caused by Paxil and Effexor include PPHN, oral clefts, spina bifida, neural tube defects and heart, lung and brain defects. Thousands of patients have been forced to file lawsuits over these side effects in an effort to hold the manufacturers of Paxil and Effexor liable for their injuries. This new study may help to develop safer antidepressant medications that can replace Paxil and Effexor. That would be the real benefit from this study.