Israeli scientists make breakthrough in treating depression. (Shutterstock.com)
Israeli scientists make breakthrough in treating depression. (Shutterstock.com)
Israeli researchers have found a new tiny molecule that could spell great news for people suffering from depression.

According to the World Health Organization, such mood disorders as depression affect some 10% of the world’s population and are associated with a heavy burden of disease. Existing anti-depressants are not good enough: Some 60-70 percent of patients get no relief from them. For the other 30-40%, that relief is often incomplete, and they must take the drugs for a long period before feeling any effects.

Now, the Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Alon Chen and his then PhD student Dr. Orna Issler have discovered a tiny molecule that has the potential to act on nerve cells to produce serotonin hormone, also known as the happy chemical.

Chen and his colleagues researched the role of microRNA molecules (small, non-coding RNA molecules that regulate various cellular activities) in the nerve cells that produce serotonin. They succeeded in identifying, for the first time, the unique “fingerprints” of a microRNA molecule that acts on the serotonin-producing nerve cells. Combining bioinformatics methods with experiments, the researchers found a connection between this particular microRNA, (miR135), and two proteins that play a key role in serotonin production and the regulation of its activities.

Their findings suggest that miR135 could be a useful therapeutic molecule – both as a blood test for depression and related disorders, and as a target whose levels might be raised in patients. Yeda Research and Development, the technology transfer arm of the Weizmann Institute, has applied for a patent connected to these findings and recently licensed the rights to miCure Therapeutics to develop a drug and diagnostic method. After completing preclinical trials, the company hopes to begin clinical trials in humans.

The findings appeared in Neuron.