Yale University researchers have cloned a gene that may shedlight on how anti-depressant drugs and cocaine work.

The gene encodes the human noradrenaline transporterprotein, a key component of the neural network leading todepression.

The transporter protein binds to the neurotransmitternoradrenaline, leading to the neurotransmitter's accumulationin nerve cells, said Susan Amara, who directed the study thatwas published today in Nature.

When the transport protein is blocked by anti-depressantdrugs, the noradrenaline instead accumulates outside the cells,said Amara.

Understanding how neurotransmitters and drugs interact withthe transport protein can lead to the design of better anti-depressant drugs, said Amara. Since cocaine binds to thetransporter, knowledge of the protein may also help explaincocaine's actions.

Amara cautioned that the road to targeted anti-depressantdrug development will be a long one since the transporterprotein is just one early step along the complex networkleading to depression.

The gene may also serve as a probe to identify individuals withabnormal transporter proteins, said Amara. Such individualsmay expose a correlation between transporter gene defects andspecific depressive disorders.

Amara said the university is filing for patent protection tocover the transporter protein. She was not aware of anycompany interest at this early stage. Companies developinganti-depressant drugs include Neurogen of Branford, Conn.,American Home Products Corp. of New York, Eli Lilly & Co. ofIndianapolis and Pfizer Inc. of New York.

-- Carol Talkington Verser, Ph.D. Special to BioWorld

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