Researchers Study Learned Helplessness In Flies And Discover The Roots Of Depression

When faced with impossible circumstances beyond their control, animals, including humans, often hunker down as they develop sleep or eating disorders, ulcers, and other physical manifestations of depression. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology show that the same kind of thing happens to flies. 

The study is a step toward understanding the biological basis for depression and presents a new way for testingantidepressant drugs, the researchers say. The discovery of such symptoms in an insect shows that the roots of depression are very deep indeed. 

“Depressions are so devastating because they go back to such a basic property of behavior,” says Martin Heisenberg of the Rudolf Virchow Center in Würzburg, Germany. 

Heisenberg says that the idea for the study came out of a lengthy discussion with a colleague about how to ask whether flies can feel fear. Franco Bertolucci, a coauthor on the study, had found that flies can rapidly learn to suppress innate behaviors, a phenomenon that is part of learned helplessness. To continue reading, click here.