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Yeast on Zoloft

May 29, 2012

The antidepressant Zoloft affects cell membranes in yeast, which lack the brain chemical the drug targets.



Yeast on antidepressants.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

So-called SSRI antidepressants, like Prozac and Zoloft, are widely used.  Yet it’s still not clear exactly how they work.  They’re designed to target a brain chemical called serotonin, which promotes well being.  But evolutionary pharmacologist Ethan Perlstein, of Princeton University’s Lewis-Sigler Institute, gave small doses of Zoloft to yeast, which don’t use serotonin at all.

ETHAN PERLSTEIN (PrincetonUniversity):

We found these membrane changes, that to us were consistent with the idea that the membranes were actually sort of soaking up the Zoloft, and by doing so, it changed their structures.  The membranes seemed to actually distort.

Perlstein says the Zoloft appears to cause minor damage to the membrane – which the cell then repairs and strengthens – similar to the way we build muscles from heavy exercise.  Since brain chemicals like serotonin are packaged in  membranes, it’s possible that this contributes to the drugs’ therapeutic effect.   I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.