Grigori Enikolopov at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and his colleagues bred a new strain of mice that allowed them to track the development of mature neurons from stem cells using the different marker proteins expressed. Of the six stages of neuron development observed in this process, the scientists found that more than two weeks of fluoxetine treatment boosted the number of so-called amplifying neural progenitors (ANPs) by nearly 50 percent (a migratory stream of which is shown in the image above).
Subsequent testing in mice allowed to live for a month after fluoxetine treatment showed a similar increase in the overall number of neurons. "Together, these results suggest that the fluoxetine-induced increase in the number of ANP precursors in the [brain] later translates into an increase in the number of new neurons," the researchers write in the paper presenting the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By isolating the step in neuron development that fluoxetine influences, the scientists have identified a new target for antidepressants that may have fewer side effects. The research also unveils the links in the chain leading from stem cells to new neurons as well as provides an animal tailor-made to investigate the mechanisms of other medicines and treatments, permitting a ray of hope into the darker regions of brain dysfunction.