Members Of the award-winning research group, from the left: Katja Kaurinkoski, Sulo Kolehmainen, Rafael Moliner, Eero Castrén, Seija Lågas and Cecilia Brunello.
The Minerva Foundation’s Medix Prize for 2022 was awarded to a research group from the University of Helsinki. The research group produced new data on the modes of action of antidepressants.
Patients suffering from depression benefit from serotonin-increasing medications. This finding has resulted in a conclusion, commonly accepted for decades, that the primary cause of depression is a depletion in serotonin.
Antidepressants have been considered to influence the brain by means of serotonin or glutamate receptors. Receptors are protein molecules that bind neurotransmitters and medicinal agents. The findings of a research group of the University of Helsinki indicate that the matter is more complex than this. The research group is headed by Research Director, MD, PhD Eero Castrén.
The article by the research group, published in the international journal Cell, demonstrates that antidepressants bind directly to TRKB neurotrophin receptors. The study questions the role of serotonin and glutamate receptors as the primary targets of antidepressants.
The research group was awarded with this year’s Medix Prize, worth €20,000, for their work. According to Dr Eero Castrén, his research group has worked in cooperation with the research groups of Professor Ilpo Vattulainen and Professor Mart Saarma.
“Their research groups have had a significant impact on the work of our research group, and the award will, thus, be divided between the researchers in the three groups,” says MD Castrén.
According to Dr Castrén, although antidepressants bind to the TRKB receptor, their binding affinity is modest, yet therapeutically significant.
“A problem with antidepressants is that their clinical effects are delayed. It may take up to several weeks before their impacts are translated into clinical mood recovery. For this reason, our research group would like to find molecules, which would bind better to the TRKB receptor. Such findings would allow the development of new kinds of antidepressants with a faster effect,” says Dr Eero Castrén.