What is depression?

Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain or by a reaction to a particularly upsetting situation.

The illness is well known for significantly impacting a person’s mood, while other less known symptoms include weight change, being unmotivated and difficulty sleeping. Depression can affect people of any age and requires treatment by a specialist.

It can be treated with medication, individual therapy sessions, electroconvulsive therapy and community support programs.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an umbrella term used to describe mental illnesses such as obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias. The fear brought on by these disorders can be paralysing and severely interfere with a person’s everyday life.

The symptoms of anxiety – usually brought on by distressing events or personality traits – include compulsions that cannot be controlled, excess worry, irrational fears and panic attacks.

However, anxiety disorders are treatable through medication, cognitive behaviour therapy and community support.

QBI research

Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) are making significant advances in the understanding of how anti-depressant medications work to stimulate the brain and improve a person’s mood.

In 2010, researcher Dr Dhanisha Jhaveri discovered that the class of drugs that increases levels of a neurotransmitter known as ‘norepinephrine’ triggers neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons) in a brain region called the hippocampus

“If you block hippocampus neurogenesis, antidepressants no longer work. That suggests antidepressants must up-regulate neurogenesis in order for them to actually have any affect on behaviour,” Dr Jhaveri said.

Armed with this information, researchers are now working to develop more specific – and therefore more effective – therapeutic treatments for depression.

Meantime, QBI neuroscientists are also working hard to better understand the area of the brain called the amygdala, which is where anxiety disorders tend to develop.

Using electrophysiology, imaging and behavioural experiments, researchers have identified some of the key local circuits involved in anxiety disorders and have discovered the molecular composition of some receptors in the amygdala that are potential targets for new anxiolytics.

“The identification of the molecular composition of receptors in the amygdala is guiding our search for new and more specific drugs to treat anxiety disorders,” explained anxiety researcher Professor Pankaj Sah

Neuroscientists are now conducting pre-clinical trials, in the hope they will be able to better understand how information from the outside world is integrated and processed by this vital region of the brain.