By a nose, worms reveal new Prozac targets.The scrunched-up noses of worms swimming in a solution of Prozac could help explain the popular antidepressant's side effects Side effects
Effects of a proposed project on other parts of the firm. , such as insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and nausea. They may even challenge the current theory of how the drug lifts spirits.
Although millions of people each year receive prescriptions for Prozac, a debate continues about how it and related antidepressants Antidepressants
Medications prescribed to relieve major depression. Classes of antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (fluoxetine/Prozac, sertraline/Zoloft), tricyclics (amitriptyline/ Elavil), MAOIs (phenelzine/Nardil), and heterocyclics work. The prevailing hypothesis holds that these drugs correct a deficiency of the brain chemical serotonin by binding to and interfering with cell-surface proteins, the serotonin reuptake reuptake /re·up·take/ (re-up´tak) reabsorption of a previously secreted substance.
n. transporters, that mop up the neurotransmitter.
Some investigators, however, contend that Prozac doesn't battle depression much better than placebo pills or talk therapy. Others accept the drug's value but dispute the evidence that serotonin deficiency causes depression.
"It's not that the drugs don't help some people--I think they do--but I don't think we know why," says Elliot S. Valenstein of the University of Michigan (body, education) University of Michigan - A large cosmopolitan university in the Midwest USA. Over 50000 students are enrolled at the University of Michigan's three campuses. The students come from 50 states and over 100 foreign countries. in Ann Arbor, a critic of the serotonin hypothesis. "There's so much that contradicts this simple theory, but we don't know what to turn to."
To explore the workings of Prozac, Robert K.M. Choy and James H. Thomas of the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, both in Seattle, chose the humble nematode nematode
Any of more than 15,000 named and many more unnamed species of worms in the class Nematoda (phylum Aschelminthes). Nematodes include plant and animal parasites and free-living forms found in soil, freshwater, saltwater, and even vinegar Caenorhabditis elegans. While its nervous system is extremely simple, the worm's nerve cells employ many of the same molecules, such as serotonin and its transporters, that the human brain does.
When bathed in Prozac, C elegans responds in two obvious ways. First, the drug triggers the female worms to lay eggs. Second, it induces muscle contractions, most dramatically in the muscles around the olfactory olfactory /ol·fac·to·ry/ (ol-fak´ter-e) pertaining to the sense of smell.
Of, relating to, or contributing to the sense of smell. cells at the worm's tip.
Investigators had previously shown that the egg-laying response stems from Prozac's interactions with the serotonin system. Choy and Thomas, however, found that the nose-muscle contractions occur independently of the drug's inhibition of serotonin transporters. This suggests that Prozac has other molecular targets in the worm, and possibly in people as well, says Choy.
By exposing C. elegans to a mutation-causing chemical, the scientists created several strains of worms that in response to Prozac, lay eggs but don't wrinkle their noses. The researchers have now identified two genes--and continue to search for more--that when mutated confer resistance to Prozac's effect on the nematode nose. The genes encode novel cell-membrane proteins and are part of a larger family of genes, the scientists report in the current (August) MOLECULAR CELL.
Choy and Thomas haven't yet found comparable genes in people or shown that Prozac and similar antidepressants interact directly with the worm cell-membrane proteins. Only then, says Choy, can scientists address whether these proteins play any role in Prozac's antidepressant antidepressant, any of a wide range of drugs used to treat psychic depression. They are given to elevate mood, counter suicidal thoughts, and increase the effectiveness of psychotherapy. actions.
While he favors the prevailing serotonin hypothesis, neuroscientist Randy D. Blakely of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center The Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is a collection of several hospitals and clinics associated with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. It comprises the following units:
In the future, scientists may bathe worms in drugs other than Prozac. Blakely, for example, plans to expose C. elegans to antipsychotic drugs that affect transporters for the brain chemical dopamine dopamine (dōp`əmēn), one of the intermediate substances in the biosynthesis of epinephrine and norepinephrine. See catecholamine.
One of the catecholamines, widely distributed in the central nervous system. .
"Drugs have historically been effective tools for investigating how worm neurons work; worm neurons may prove equally effective for investigating how drugs work," notes William R. Schafer of the University of California, San Diego UCSD is consistently ranked among the top ten public universities for undergraduate education in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. It is a Public Ivy.  For graduate studies, most of UCSD's Ph.D. in a commentary in the Sept. 3 CELL.