Researchers at the University of Maryland analyzed the brains of mice and people with depression who committed suicide.
They found both had decreased levels of a certain gene in their reward center, known as the 'nucleus accumbens' (pictured)The study builds on previous research that showed a link between this gene and depression in the hippocampus - the brain region which controls emotion and memory, and is the main focus of depression research.
However, she said, the region is a 'druggable target', and reaching it with medication is not beyond the realm of possibility.
'In the last decade, we've had a real explosion of tools for us to look at these neuron sub-types in the brain,' she said.
Now, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have identified a gene in mice and humans that can either intensify anxiety or protect someone from stress, depending on the levels.
They found that they could trigger depression in mice, or make the mice more resilient, simply by altering the levels of this gene's expression in their brain.
Dr Lobo first noticed the gene during her Ph D in 2006, and saw that it was more common among certain neurons in the brain's 'reward circuit', which releases a rush of dopamine during sex, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or eating good food.
For the next five years, Dr Lobo led research studying this gene in the reward center of drug addicts' brains.
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Mary Kay Lobo, assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology who led the new study, said her findings show we need to study how all areas of the brain contribute to depression.
'There are multiple areas of the brain affected in depression,' Dr Lobo said to Daily Mail Online.'This study shows we really need to go in there and look at each area differently. 'The brain is very heterogeneous, we need to home in on vulnerable neurons and find ways to treat them.'Hopefully this study will help us come up with pharmacological agents that might change the levels of this gene to treat people with depression.' The study focused on a gene called Slc6a15.
The study builds on previous research that showed a link between this gene and depression in the hippocampus - the brain region which controls emotion and memory, and is the main focus of depression research Dr Lobo's team analyzed a group of mice which were susceptible to stress.
They put them in high-stress situations, such as being confronted by larger, more aggressive mice.
In those situations, the mice became fearful, and afterwards demonstrated symptoms of depression.