According to a recent study, there is a sharp decline in the density of a particular nerve cell called Astrocytes in the brain of people who suffered from depression and died by suicide. The observation was published as a report by scientists from Douglas Mental Health University and McGill University in Canada.
Astrocytes are a sub-type of glial cells in the central nervous system that play an active role in neurotransmission. They perform various tasks, from axon guidance and synaptic support to controlling the blood-brain barrier and blood flow in the body.
In the study, the brain tissues of 10 men who suffered depression and died by suicide were compared with ten other people who experienced a sudden death but were not diagnosed with depressive conditions. The brain's three regions considered responsible for emotional regulation, namely dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, dorsal caudate nucleus, and mediodorsal thalamus were the study's focus.
The results showed that the number of astrocytes was significantly lower in the brains of people who had died by suicide. The density was five times lower in the mediodorsal thalamus and caudate nucleus and half in the prefrontal cortex of the people who had died by suicide than those who had no psychiatric conditions before their death.
The study, however, doesn't explain the reason behind the depletion of the nerve cells.
The researchers note that depression affected not just the structure of these nerve cells but also their quantity. Since there is a direct link between the amount of these cells in the human brain and their important role in depression, the authors of the study suggest giving medicines that help induce these cells' growth or curb their depletion would possibly be a useful treatment.