Psilocybin, a psychedelic drug, a natural compound found in some mushrooms, has been studied as a potential treatment for depression for years. But it is not yet clear how exactly it works in the brain and how long the beneficial results may last.
In a new study, Yale researchers show that a single dose of psilocybin given to mice caused an immediate and long-lasting increase in the connections between neurons.
“Not only did we see a 10% increase in the number of neural connections, but they were also on average 10% larger, so the connections were also stronger,” said Alex Kwan, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and Yale senior. author of the article.
Previous laboratory experiments have shown promise that psilocybin, as well as the anesthetic ketamine, can decrease depression.
The new Yale research found that these compounds increase the density of dendritic spines, tiny bumps found on nerve cells that help in the transmission of information between neurons. Chronic stress and depression are known to reduce the number of these neural connections.
Using a laser scanning microscope, Kwan and first author Ling-Xiao Shao, a postdoctoral associate at Yale School of Medicine, took high-resolution images of dendritic spines and tracked them for several days in live mice.
They found increases in the number of dendritic spines and their size within 24 hours of psilocybin administration. These changes were still present a month later. Additionally, mice subjected to stress showed behavioral improvements and increased neurotransmitter activity after receiving psilocybin.
For some people, psilocybin, an active compound in “magic mushrooms,” can produce a profound mystical experience. Psychedelic was a staple of religious ceremonies among the indigenous populations of the New World and is also a popular recreational drug.
It may be the new psychological effects of psilocybin itself that stimulate the growth of neural connections, Kwan said.
“It was a real surprise to see such long-lasting changes with a single dose of psilocybin,” he said of the findings. published in the magazine Neuron this month. “These new connections may be the structural changes that the brain uses to store new experiences.”
Fountain: Yale university
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