The SERT & Heart Disease

People with psychiatric disorders such as major depression and anxiety disorders are much more likely to also suffer from with heart problems than the general population. Likewise, individuals suffering from heart problems are more likely to develop major depression or anxiety disorders. In other words, there seems to a causal link between depression, anxiety and heart disease.

In this project we investigate the hypothesis that high levels of serotonin (5-HT) early in life may be this causal link. The reasoning behind this is that genetic reductions in the SERT are a vulnerability factor for major depression, anxiety disorders and heart disease and leads to high levels of 5-HT already very early on in life. From studies in rats and mice, we have learned that 5-HT, during development, plays an important role in shaping the structure and function of the brain as well as the heart.

For this project we will change the extracellular levels of 5-HT early in life through pharmacological means and subsequently investigate whether this leads to changes in the body and behaviour. Behaviourally, we will investigate depressive and anxiety-like symptoms. We will also assess changes in heart rate and especially heart rate variability. In addition, we will investigate changes in the structure and functioning of the brain and heart using immunohistochemistry.

This project is supported by a grant from the New Zealand Heart Foundation