Cork scientists can show those who thrive on stress or buckle

Discovery at UCC could lead to new drugs to combat depression

Scientists in Cork have discovered a way to show whether you are the kind of person who can deal with stress or are vulnerable to its negative effects. Photograph: Getty

Scientists in Cork have discovered a way to show whether you are the kind of person who can deal with stress or are vulnerable to its negative effects. Photograph: Getty

 

Scientists in Cork have discovered a way to show whether you are the kind of person who can deal with stress or are vulnerable to its negative effects, a finding that could lead to new drugs for the treatment of depression.

Some people seem to thrive in stressful situations, while others buckle under the pressure. Now researchers at University College Cork believe they have found a way to predict who will cope and who won’t, based on a mechanism in the brain.

“Chronic stress is known to act as a trigger that can lead to depression, but many people have stressful lives and don’t get depression,” said Dr Olivia O’Leary, based in Cork’s Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience. “We were trying to understand why this is.”

She and Prof John Cryan, chair of the department, worked with Dr Daniela Felice and collaborators in France and Switzerland to find the answer using strains of mice that are naturally stressed out. They found it in a mechanism that handles neurotransmitters in the brain. If you have one version of these “receptors” you are resilient to stress, but another version of the receptor leaves you vulnerable to stress. They released their findings last night in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although it was “early days” given the research was in mice not humans, the findings show the receptors provided “important targets for the development of new drugs in the treatment of depression”, said Dr O’Leary. “We wanted to show if you manipulate the receptor you can alter the behavioural response to stress.”

The researchers have high hopes it may work in the same way in humans given recent findings in a separate project that linked depression in humans with alterations in the way the receptors worked in these patients.

“We are very excited by it,” she said.