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A team of Ontario researchers says their latest study could help pave the way for different approaches to treating depression.

The study – completed at McMaster University’s Brain-Body Institute and published this week in Scientific Reports – concluded a common class of antidepressants works by stimulating activity in the gut and key nerves connected to it rather than the brain as previously believed.

The research focused on Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant that’s known to benefit patients but whose functioning is little understood by the medical community.

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The McMaster researchers spent nearly a year testing SSRIs on mice in a bid to solve the puzzle.

They found that mice taking the medication showed much greater stimulation of neurons in the gut wall, as well as the vagus nerve that connects the gut to the brain. Those benefits disappeared if the vagus nerve was surgically cut.

Study co-author Karen-Anne McVey Neufeld says the findings suggest the gut may play a larger role in depression than previously believed and the latest research hints at new treatment possibilities in the future.

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