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Avoiding Lights at Night Keeps Depression Away!

Avoiding Lights at Night Keeps Depression Away!

(ePharmaNews) – Light has always been linked to joy and happiness while darkness is the metaphoric substitution for loneliness and melancholy, yet trying to get rid of the natural darkness at night with artificial lights might lead to depression according to a new study.

Published this week in Molecular Psychiatry, this study suggests that nightly exposure to artificial light may be a contributing factor to the rising rate of depression.
Depression (or Major Depressive Disorder) is a disorder that is poorly understood. Although genetic predisposition is known to play a role, the increase in incidence over the past several decades is thought to have occurred too rapidly for genetic shifts to entirely account for the phenomenon. Besides that, artificial light at night has been linked to several other diseases and is a relatively new presence in the environment.

To find out how artificial light at night affects depression, Tracy Bedrosian and colleagues from The Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, OH, USA . Investigated the effects of light at night on specific brain markers and behaviors known to be associated with depression in female hamsters.

Dr. Bedrosian mentioned in an e-mail to ePharmaNews reporters : “Humans have become increasingly exposed to artificial light at night over the past century. At the same time, depression rates have been rising. Light at night could affect the body through many pathways, including by disrupting the circadian system or suppressing melatonin secretion”, she adds: “In order to determine how chronic (4 weeks) exposure to light at night affects hamsters, we exposed them to a dim night light each night. After 4 weeks we found that the hamsters acted more "depressed" in standard rodent behavioral tests. They also had some changes to the brains that were reminiscent of major depressive disorder in humans”.

Dr.Bedrosian has found that hamsters that were exposed to light at night had different locomotor activity patterns, meaning that they moved around their cages less at nighttime than hamsters in the dark. They also had reduced hippocampal spine density, meaning the physical structure of neurons was altered. Spine density refers to small protrusions on the dendrites of neurons--or sites of communication between brain cells. Reductions in the complexity of these neurons has been linked to depression, which is consistent with what we found in our hamsters.

In addition, being exposed to light at night increased the gene expression of TNF (an inflammatory chemical that has been linked to depression in humans) whereas a drug that blocked TNF prevented the development of depression-like symptoms in light at night. This does suggest, according to dr.Bedrosian, that neuroinflammation plays at least a partial role in the depressive symptoms observed under light at night.

Dr.Bedrosian adds in the same e-mail: “Perhaps one important finding of this study is that there is good news. Even in hamsters exposed to many weeks of light at night, simply returning them to dark nights improved the depression-like symptoms and even the physical changes to the brain”.

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Edited By: Laila Nour

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