Ask most people about the neurochemical origins of depression and you’ll likely hear how low serotonin levels are the cause. But today’s scientists know depression’s roots are more tangled and complex. One area of interest to them is the brain’s prefrontal cortex, a region responsible for motivational and goal-directed behavior. For those with depression, this region’s neurons are unhealthy, their connections, called synapses, withering like rotten roots.
“If you’re not getting the right growth cues, the prefrontal cortex cannot communicate to other brain regions and you’re going to end up with depression,” said Lindsay Cameron, a neuroscience Ph.D. student. “So by stimulating growth in the prefrontal cortex, you’re strengthening control over these other regions and restoring health.”
Cameron and other researchers at UC Davis are actively exploring drugs capable of spurring such neural growth and restoring health. And some dark horse candidates are psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin and DMT.