Certain antidepressants are prescribed for a variety of disorders besides depression, including bulimia, hot flashes, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke recovery and sexual dysfunction. A new study has revealed that a commonly prescribed anti-depressant, sertraline, marketed as Zoloft, significantly increased the volume of one brain region in depressed individuals but decreased the volume of two brain areas in non-depressed individuals. The findings of the study also suggest that although it is a common practice to prescribe antidepressants for various disorders besides depression, taking these medicines for treating disorders other than depression may expose us to unknown risks.
Lead author of the study Carol Shively, professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, US, said, "These observations are important for human health because Zoloft is widely prescribed for a number of disorders other than depression."
For the study, researchers followed 41 middle-aged female monkeys who were divided into two groups balanced for body weight, body mass index and depressive behavior. For the following 18 months, 21 monkeys received sertraline in daily doses comparable to those taken by humans while a group of 20 received a placebo.
MRI images taken at the end of the treatment phase revealed that in depressed study participants the drug significantly increased the volume of one region of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, while decreasing the volume of this same region and the hippocampus in non-depressed participants. Both these areas are highly interconnected with other areas of the brain; and are critical in a wide array of functions including memory, learning, spatial navigation, will, motivation and emotion; and are implicated in major depressive disorder.
However, the researchers said the findings need to be investigated further to see if these drugs produce similar effects in humans. The study appeared online in Neuropharmacology.