Research Report: New theory advanced on chronic depression

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach. Her regular column features local science news.

By Lynne Friedmann

Chronic depression may stem from a neurobiological process gone wrong. This novel theory arises from diverse clinical, biological, and behavioral studies that lead UCSD School of Medicine researchers to conclude that the debilitating mental state originates from mechanisms used by the body to deal with physical injury, such as pain, tissue repair, and convalescent behavior.

According to the new theory, severe stress and adverse life events — such as losing a job or family member — prompt neurobiological processes that physically alter the brain. Neurons change shape and connections. Some neurons die, but others sprout as the brain rewires itself. This neural remodeling employs basic wound-healing mechanisms, which means it can be painful and occasionally incapacitating, even when the process is going well.

Problems arise when these restructuring processes go into overdrive, beyond what is necessary and adaptive, and for longer periods of time than needed. This, the theory states, is when depression becomes pathologic. The findings appear in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review. News release at

Journal spotlights La Jolla center

A peer-review journal on crystallography and structural biology has devoted an entire issue to the Joint Center for Structural Genomics (JCSG), a consortium led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). It is the first time the journal has focused an issue exclusively on a single scientific center. Major research components of JCSG reside at TSRI, Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, UCSD, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and Stanford University.
Structural genomics seeks to determine the 3-dimensional structure of proteins using both experimental techniques and computer simulation. According to the publishers, the decision to devote an entire issue to JCSG demonstrates the progress in high-throughput structural biology derived from the collaboration of these five institutions.
The October issue of Acta Crystallographica Section F contains 35 articles on different aspects of the JCSG research and can be found at http://<a href=" News release at

Extinction risk to birds

Biologists at Yale and UCSD have developed a statistical model that helps predict the risk of extinction for almost 90 percent of the world’s bird species. This first-of-its-kind tool will be used to improve biodiversity conservation during rapid global change.

Several factors such as large body size, specialized lifestyle, slow reproduction, and a narrow geographic distribution all increase threats to avian survival. So does human encroachment. However, until now, it has not been shown before how these factors interact with each other to threaten bird species’ survival.

Using vast amounts of ecological and environmental data, species-range maps and satellite imagery, the model developed by researchers disentangles the more “static” causes of extinction risk (such as body size) from human-induced environmental change (such as expansion of agricultural lands).

The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. News release at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

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Posted by Kathy Day on Oct 26, 2010. Filed under Columns, Health & Science, News, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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