Washington: Anti-depressants may help spur the creation and survival of new brain cells after brain injury, researchers say.
Jason Huang and colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Centre undertook the study after noticing that patients with brain injuries, who were prescribed anti-depressants, did better in unexpected ways than their other counterparts.
"We saw these patients improving in multiple ways - their depression was improved, but so were their memory and cognitive functioning," said Huang, the Journal of Neurotrauma reports.
"We wanted to look at the issue more, so we went back to the laboratory to investigate it further," said Huang, associate professor of neurosurgery at Highland Hospital, a Rochester affiliate.
Huang said many patients who have a traumatic brain injury also experience depression. By some estimates, half of such patients are depressed, according to a Rochester statement quoted in the journal.
Doctors are not sure whether the depression is a byproduct of the sudden, unfortunate change in circumstances that patients find themselves in, or whether it is a direct consequence of brain damage.
Previous research by other groups indicated that anti-depressants help generate new brain cells and keep them healthy in healthy animals.
That, together with the experience of his patients, led Huang to study the effects of the anti-depressant imipramine (Tofranil) on mice that had injuries to their brains.
Scientists found that imipramine boosted the number of neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain primarily responsible for memory.
By one measure, mice treated with imipramine had approximately 70 percent more neurons after four weeks than mice that did not receive the medication.
The team found that mice that had been treated with imipramine also had a better memory.