One of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants is Fluoxetine (commonly known as Prozac), which targets transporters of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. However, our knowledge of this drug stops here, which leaves us unable to improve existing drugs or create new ones. Past research suggests that antidepressant medications alter the cellular and molecular machinery responsible for neuromodulation, the process by which a neuron uses chemicals to regulate larger groups of neurons.
Scientists, including a collaborative team led by neurobiologists David Krantz and Mark Frye, have found that Drosophila melanogaster, a.k.a. fruit flies, provide an optimal system for studying neuromodulation in the brain. Flies are an optimal model because they are easily manipulated during experimentation and their brains are complex enough for research findings to be applied to the human brain. The Krantz and Frye labs are currently using the fly to study how changes in levels of neurotransmitters in the brain affect the genes expressed in specific brain cells. Their goal is to identify the molecules that are driving neuromodulatory changes caused by serotonin. In addition to this focus area, they are leveraging the power of fly genetic tools to determine how neurons that receive visual information control behavior and how serotonin regulates these processes. Studying the fruit fly allows for in-depth study of brain circuits, while also enabling the Krantz and Frye labs to determine how brain circuits are affected by drugs such as psychostimulants and antidepressants. The fruit fly broadens the possibilities for important research breakthroughs in understanding the role of brain circuits in depression.
This update was included in the DGC Summer Newsletter, written by UCLA Student/Depression Grand Challenge Student Worker, Emilia Szmyrgala.