Why is it that a warm hug from a friend makes some of us really happy, while for others it registers as nothing, as they are unable to find any enjoyment from their surroundings? The latter case quite likely indicates a depressive mindset or depression.
There may be a breakthrough in curing this, as well as many other psychic disorders, after the potential discovery of drugs that would impact a certain transport protein in the brain – the one that a group of scientists from the University of Tartu have, figuratively speaking, put their finger on.
“Putting their finger on it” means that Marillis Vaht, a junior researcher of neuropsychopharmacology, lately demonstrated something important about a gene that encodes the activity of the molecule moving around brain chemicals related to feeling well and alert. It turns out that the gene influences impulsivity, anxiety, depressiveness, neuroticism, as well as addiction to and abuse of alcohol.
The existence of the aforementioned molecule was discovered just at the turn of the century. In the 1990s, scientists still believed that the VMAT1 transport protein was present in the human gastrointestinal tract and the blood vessels, but not in the brain.
VMAT1 performs the task of organizing the communication between nerve cells. It might seem simple: neurotransmitters related to feeling well and alert, such as serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, are sent from one nerve cell to another at the right time and in the right amount. But the protein does its work with different levels of success in different human beings, depending on hereditary factors. In addition to other benefits, knowing this helps to explain why a warm hug from a friend produces a pleasant feeling in some people and nothing in others.
“If the activity of the protein-transporting neurotransmitters is really low, it might mean, for example, decreased release of dopamine, a compound related to feeling well”, explained Vaht. Continue reading