“While as many as one in six Americans is likely to suffer depression in their lifetimes current medications either are inadequate or eventually stop working in as many as 50 percent of patients.”
“Robin Williams was a true friend for the environmental protection of all living things” Nancy Chuda
I had the fortunate opportunity to work with Robin Williams. In 1990, my daughter Colette had been diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer. I was an activist and volunteer working for a non-profit organization called Mothers and Others for Pesticide Limits founded by Meryl Streep and Wendy Gordon Rockefeller. Along with my good friend Jeff Margolis we were able to raise critical funds to support the organization’s efforts to protect children against the harmful health affects of exposure to pesticides. To bring awareness to our nation and the world, we co-produced an ABC Variety Special called, An Evening With: Friends for the Environment. WATCH Robin Williams!
On the night of the concert, September 13, 1990, Robin was the only male voice amongst the rest of our star-studded cast. Olivia Newton-John, Colette’s God Mother, joined, Meryl, Bette, Cher, Goldie and Lilly Tomlin to celebrate, protect and preserve the environment… for our children’s sake. Robin was the “other mother for pesticide limits.”
WATCH Meryl Streep talk about her most important role in life!
“The specific causes of depression are not well understood, the researchers said. There is no laboratory test for depression — the diagnosis is based mainly on patients’ own reports of lethargy, despondency, despair and disturbances of appetite and sleep — but a core symptom is anhedonia, also known as the blues.”
“Psychiatry has proven to be among the least penetrable clinical disciplines for the development of satisfactory in vivo model systems for evaluating novel treatment approaches. However, mood and anxiety disorders remain poorly understood and inadequately treated. With the explosion in the use of genetically modified mice, enormous research efforts have been focused on developing mouse models of psychiatric disorders.”
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered a molecular mechanism responsible for one of the most important symptoms of major depression: anhedonia, the loss of the ability to experience pleasure.
While the study was conducted in mice, the brain circuit involved in this new pathway is largely identical between rodents and humans, increasing the odds that the findings could point toward new therapies for depression and other disorders, the researchers note.
While as many as one in six Americans is likely to suffer depression in their lifetimes, current medications either are inadequate or eventually stop working in as many as 50 percent of patients, noted Robert Malenka, MD, PhD, and the Nancy Friend Pritzker Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
“This may be because all current medications for depression work via the same mechanisms,” he said. “They increase levels of one or another of two small molecules that some nerve cells in the brain use to signal one another. To get better treatments, there’s a great need to understand in greater detail the brain biology that underlies depression’s symptoms.”
Malenka is senior author of the new study, published in Nature, which shows how a hormone known to affect appetite turns off the brain’s ability to experience pleasure when an animal is stressed.
The hormone, melanocortin, signals the brain’s reward circuit, which has evolved to guide animals toward resources, behaviors and environments — such as food, sex and warmth — that enhance their prospects for survival.
The specific causes of depression are not well understood, the researchers said. There is no laboratory test for depression — the diagnosis is based mainly on patients’ own reports of lethargy, despondency, despair and disturbances of appetite and sleep — but a core symptom is anhedonia, also known as the blues.
In the search for new compounds to combat depression, however, drug developers typically have used tests of mouse behaviors that may not truly reflect this key feature of depression — and may also limit the search for effective drugs, according to Malenka.
For this study, Malenka and his colleagues instead tested a mouse’s ability to experience enjoyment. In another departure from more common practice in studies of depression, the scientists conducted their behavioral measurements after exposing the mice to chronic stress rather than simply placing otherwise normal mice in a single stressful situation.
The researcher specifically notes the “forced swim” test, where scientists throw a rodent into water and measure how long it takes for the animal to give up trying to swim — an outcome assumed to indicate “behavioral despair.”
The researchers say this assumption is a red herring because it imputes a state of mind — despair — to rats and mice.
Instead, the researchers decided to use chronically stressed mice to explore the effect of a naturally occurring molecule, melanocortin.
“A few scattered studies had suggested that chronic stress increased melanocortin levels in the brain,” Malenka said. “And it was known that stressed animals have heightened numbers of receptors for melanocortin in the nucleus accumbens,” which is a key region of the reward circuit.
What wasn’t yet known, however, is whether melanocortin actually affected the nucleus accumbens or how, he said. “We wanted to find out, because we were wondering if by modulating melanocortin’s activity with a drug we could relieve or prevent a major symptom of depression,” he explained.
Malenka’s team subjected mice to chronic stress by confining them for three to four hours a day in small tubes with holes in them for air flow over a period of eight days.
They then subjected the mice to the sucrose-preference test often used in laboratories. Researchers note that if you give mice a choice between water and water containing dissolved sugar, they usually go for the sugar water. However, chronically stressed mice lose that preference, just as people suffering depression lose joy in their lives.
Could it be that Robin Williams, the actor who battled drug and alcohol addictions, was not too far removed from the sugar water he had encountered throughout his career. “You look at the world and see how scary it can be sometimes and still try to deal with the fear,” he told AP in 1989. “Comedy can deal with fear and still not paralyze you or tell you that its going away. You say, OK, you got certain choices here, you can laugh at them and then once you’ve laughed at them and you have expunged the demon, now you can deal with them. That’s what I do when I do my act.”
“Williams will be lovingly remembered by the world stage he created, fostered and nutured with all his heart. And for his children who carry his lantern of light, love and acceptance for those less fortunate who too are forever humbled having discovered his grace and dignity for humankind.” Nancy Chuda