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Depression is often thought to be a problem with brain chemistry, although recent evidence suggest that it may also be a structural problem with cells not regenerating as fast as normal. One possible reason for the lack of regeneration by the cells is from the toxic effects of stress and stress hormones.

Researcher, Kamillla Miskowiak, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, led a team of scientist to evaluate the effects of erythropoietin (Epo), a hormone naturally produced by the kidneys that stimulates the formation of red blood cells and is known as a treatment for anemia. The researchers were aware that new evidence shows that Epo also has demonstrated neuroprotective and neurotrophic effects in animals and affect cognitive and associated neural responses in humans, which suggested to them that it may be a candidate in the treatment of depression.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers evaluated the effects of Epo on the neural and cognitive processing of emotional information in healthy volunteers. They found Epo regulated the emotional responses similar to the effects of current antidepressants.

The researchers feel that their finding provides support to the idea that Epo affects neural function and may be a candidate agent for future treatment strategies for depression.