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Depression drug shifts personality; antidepressant's efficacy may depend on altering two traits.

Medications frequently prescribed for depression may not lighten a person's mood until they brighten his or her personality. A new study suggests that the antidepressant paroxetine, or Paxil, fights depression more effectively when it first modifies two personality traits.

The two traits, high neuroticism and low extraversion, have already been linked to depression. Depressed patients taking Paxil showed much greater change in these traits, as assessed by personality tests, than patients given placebo pills. The difference was notable even after accounting for how much each treatment diminished standard measures of depression, says psychologist Tony Tang of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Patients who experienced especially pronounced personality change during four months of Paxil treatment displayed a particularly low depression relapse rate over the next year of treatment, Tang's team reports in the December Archives of General Psychiatry.

"We propose that modern anti-depressants work partly by correcting the long-term personality risk factors for depression," Tang says. His group initially suspected that personality changes during treatment with SSRIs (short for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Paxil are a result of alleviating depression. But the findings from the team's placebo-controlled study of 240 people with depression suggest that Paxil exerts an independent effect on personality that helps to reduce depression.

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"This is more evidence than I've seen before that personality changes drive antidepressant responses, but it's still a small study," remarks psychiatrist Andrew Leuchter of the University of California, Los Angeles.

High neuroticism involves a tendency to experience negative emotions and emotional instability. Low extraversion refers to a lack of sociability, assertiveness and upbeat feelings. Both traits have been linked to the brain chemical serotonin. SSRIs increase levels of serotonin available to neurons in the brain.

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Title Annotation:Body & Brain
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 2, 2010
Words:286
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