Newly-identified exercise gene could help with depression

December 2, 2007

Boosting an exercise-related gene in the brain works as a powerful anti-depressant in mice—a finding that could lead to a new anti-depressant drug target, according to a Yale School of Medicine report in Nature Medicine.

“The VGF exercise-related gene and target for drug development could be even better than chemical antidepressants because it is already present in the brain,” said Ronald Duman, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study.

Depression affects 16 percent of the population in the United States, at a related cost of $83 billion each year. Currently available anti-depressants help 65 percent of patients and require weeks to months before the patients experience relief.

Duman said it is known that exercise improves brain function and mental health, and provides protective benefits in the event of a brain injury or disease, but how this all happens in the brain is not well understood. He said the fact that existing medications take so long to work indicates that some neuronal adaptation or plasticity is needed.

He and his colleagues designed a custom microarray that was optimized to show small changes in gene expression, particularly in the brain’s hippocampus, a limbic structure highly sensitive to stress hormones, depression, and anti-depressants.

They then compared the brain activity of sedentary mice to those who were given running wheels. The researchers observed that the mice with wheels within one week were running more than six miles each night. Four independent array analyses of the mice turned up 33 hippocampal exercise-regulated genes—27 of which had never been identified before.

The action of one gene in particular—VGF—was greatly enhanced by exercise. Moreover, administering VGF functioned like a powerful anti-depressant, while blocking VGF inhibited the effects of exercise and induced depressive-like behavior in the mice.

“Identification of VGF provides a mechanism by which exercise produces antidepressant effects,” Duman said. “This information further supports the benefits of exercise and provides a novel target for the development of new antidepressants with a completely different mechanism of action than existing medications.”

Source: Yale University

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1 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2007
Wow. This strikes me as interesting, in that it is new neuroscience developments, but completely STUPID at the same time. These people need to stop what they're doing and think for a second. This gene is activated by exercise... and helps depression? Why do we need gene therapy to turn it on? Couldn't you just, oh, I don't know, RUN a little bit? Man... this is the kind of crap we REALLY don't need more of in our society. The quick fix drugs instead of a little bit of sweat. Granted, if some person is still depressed regardless of exercise, perhaps they could benefit from therapy derived from this research... but I have a feeling that nearly 16% of the population in the US is just a little bit LAZY. Get off the couch! Turns out that helps your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart conditions among other things!

Perhaps I'm blowing up a little, but that's because I just finished my 1 hour run in 4 inches of snow in just a hoodie and shorts. So there. :) (And I ENJOYED it, fancy that. :) )
1 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2007
I used to run before an an injury stopped me. How much snow you have where you are?
1.3 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2007
Ah yes but you have fat sedentary type who have never exercised in their lives (beyond an elvislike bowel movement). Give them a taste for VGF and then they might waddle around a bit if they know there's a buzz at the end of it.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2007
The stigma of being called lazy is precisely the reason so much depression goes untreated. Your posts calling depressed people lazy does a grave diservice to people suffering from depression.

Research like this may be able to help people with depression start exercising so they can gain the natural benifits that come from it. Unfortunately comments like yours only make it less likely that they will seek help, preffering instead to believe the stigma of laziness (which you have helped preserve) and wallow in self pitty. Im glad that your life is so perfect, but please think before you type.
3 / 5 (3) Dec 03, 2007
I don't pat coke users on the head and tell them that it is all ok, Be Who You Want To Be. And I'm not going to start doing that to fat people either. Enabling a fat person by telling them "Don't worry, it's ok to be fat! You're pretty and fine just the way you are" is stupid. They aren't fine just they way they are. They are hurting themselves both physically and emotionally as much as a coke user does. They need to change, and no one should tell them otherwise. Insulting them does no good (and it's just mean), but neither does ignoring their problem.

As for this research, well, no one can exercise 24/7. A normal depressed person, sure, they'd be helped by reasonable exercise. But someone suffering from chronic depression? I doubt it. I think the idea here is to find a way to supplement current (partially effective) treatments by overstimulating the gene in question. *shrugs* Whatever the idea is, it is interesting.
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 03, 2007
This article isnt about weight loss, its about a treatment for depression. that aside, I agree with almost everything you said. No, its not ok for depressed people to be depressed, but it is also counter productive to call them lazy.
2 / 5 (1) Dec 03, 2007
I love how some people think this research isn't valuable because, "All you have to do is exercise." Obviously, everyone can get up and do that unless you're lazy. That's great, except for those of us that have conditions preventing that from occurring. And, incidentally, people with chronic physical conditions are more likely to suffer from depression. So maybe instead of being so self-centered as to say, "Anyone who doesn't exercise can and should, and if they don't then they're lazy. And Fat, too!" You should really count your blessings for being able to walk and run normally, as some of us can't.
2 / 5 (1) Dec 03, 2007
Ultimately, lack of exercise doesn't make people fat. There is a simple equation:

Energy Expended = Energy Consumed

If you eat small amounts of food, then you can lay on a bed all day long and you won't get fat. But if you wish to eat large amounts of food, you *must* burn off that excess energy, or you will get fat. Well, unless you have a fast metabolism. Sadly, I don't. If I eat and don't move, I gain weight like crazy:P.

The thing is, most of the food available today has a huge energy density. If you don't move, you can't eat much. One large chocolate bar provides more than enough energy to survive on if you can't move at all.
not rated yet Dec 04, 2007
One would have to walk 8km to burn the kJs in a single chocolate bar, so balancing energy consumed to physical energy expended is impossible for anyone who isn't a professional athlete in training.

The body doesn't handle food as simple physics conservation of energy equation, but as a group of complex physiological subsystems and feedback loops.

Exercise helps the body stay fit as much by appetite suppression as by burning k-Joules. It does this by keeping the body/mind balance healthy so that leptin and insulin work together to modulate energy storage/production and control appetite urges.

Many studies show exercise alleviates depression. This article simply points to one more pathway that exercise activates.

Laying on a bed all day, no matter what you eat, is a recipe for both obesity and depression.

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