Female scientist looks into microscope
Alexia Williams uses a microscope to examine mouse brains in which RGS2 protein was experimentally increased. Increasing the RGS2 protein in the nucleus accumbens reduced the effects of stress on behavior in female mice. (JR Martinez/UC Davis)

Scientists Pinpoint 1 Reason Why Women May Not Respond to Depression Treatments the Same as Men

The Answer May Be in the Brain, UC Davis Researchers Suggest

Although treatments for depression exist, sometimes these treatments don’t work for many who use them. Furthermore, women experience higher rates of depression than men, yet the cause for this difference is unknown, making their illnesses, at times, more complicated to treat.

UC Davis researchers teamed up with scientists from Mount Sinai Hospital, Princeton University, and Laval University, Quebec, to try to understand how a specific part of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, is affected during depression. The nucleus accumbens is important for motivation, response to rewarding experiences and social interactions — all of which are affected by depression.

Previous analyses within the nucleus accumbens showed that different genes were turned on or off in women, but not in men diagnosed with depression. These changes could have caused symptoms of depression, or alternatively, the experience of being depressed could have changed the brain. To differentiate between these possibilities, the researchers studied mice that had experienced negative social interactions, which induce stronger depression-related behavior in females than males.

“These high-throughput analyses are very informative for understanding long-lasting effects of stress on the brain. In our rodent model, negative social interactions changed gene expression patterns in female mice that mirrored patterns observed in women with depression. This is exciting because women are understudied in this field, and this finding allowed me to focus my attention on the relevance of these data for women’s health.” — Alexia Williams, a postdoctoral researcher and UC Davis psychology doctoral graduate who designed and led these studies.

Read the rest of this article and related stories at UC Davis News.

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