The World Health Organization has reported that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Most drugs currently used to treat the disease were developed 40 years ago and their efficacy is limited — indeed, for some sufferers, current drug treatments can actually make symptoms worse.
To aid the development of more effective therapeutics for depression, Dipesh Chaudhury, assistant professor of biology at NYU Abu Dhabi, studies neural circuits that are related to depression, and the complex relationship this circuitry has with another behavior — sleep.
Researchers know that people with depression tend to have abnormal sleep patterns. It has also been known for decades that depriving a depressed person of sleep for one night can rapidly alleviate depression. The fact that sleep deprivation leads to rapid alleviation of symptoms further strengthens the link between sleep patterns and depression, Chaudhury said.
And though sleep deprivation can’t be used as a long-term treatment for patients, “if we understand how sleep deprivation works, we may be able to bypass sleep deprivation therapy and develop targeted therapeutics,” explained Chaudhury. “In our lab, we want to know what the different components of these disorders are, and understand how they work in both normal and abnormal states. We have to understand these things before we can develop effective treatments.”
To gain a deeper understanding of the biology that drives mood and sleep, Chaudhury and other researchers in his lab can generate a depressive-like state in mice and then reverse it by altering the mice’s sleep patterns. “When we induce depression, we see molecular and cellular changes in the brain, and these changes reset after sleep deprivation,” Chaudhury said.
Chaudhury’s team is mapping out the different regions that are important to sleep-wake homeostasis, circadian rhythmicity, and mood. “Our goal is to tie up changes on the cellular and molecular levels with changes in behavior,” Chaudhury said. “This is something that hasn’t been done yet.” And doing so may provide researchers with insights about how to develop more effective treatments for illnesses like depression that affect so many people around the globe.