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Botox injections may soon be used to treat depression

Botox may be an effective treatment for depression, according to the results of a new study. Botox injections are commonly used to ease wrinkles, migraine headaches, and muscle spasms, and clinical trials are currently underway to test the medication for its ability to treat depression.

In the FDA’s Adverse Effect Reporting System (FAERS) database, nearly 40,000 people have reported on their individual experiences after receiving Botox treatment. 

Researchers at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at at UC San Diego analyzed this data to gain a better understanding of the potential side effects.

The team discovered that individuals who received Botox injections in the forehead or in five other sites reported depressive symptoms significantly less often than patients undergoing different treatments for the same conditions.

“For years, clinicians have observed that Botox injected for cosmetic reasons seems to ease depression for their patients,” said study lead author Dr. Ruben Abagyan. 

“It’s been thought that easing severe frown lines in the forehead region disrupts a feedback loop that reinforces negative emotions. But we’ve found here that the mechanism may be more complex, because it doesn’t really matter where the Botox is injected.”

Dr. Abagyan collaborated with Tigran Makunts, a research fellow at the FDA, and Dr. Marc Axel Wollmer, a psychiatrist who has led past clinical studies that showed Botox can alleviate depression.

While the FAERS database contains voluntary reports of adverse effects associated with various medications, Dr. Abagyan’s team did not look for the negative side effects of Botox. Instead, the researchers set out to investigate the absence of complaints about depression after Botox. 

The research was focused on nearly 40,000 FAERS participants who had received Botox treatment for eight different purposes and injection sites, including the forehead, neck, limbs and bladder. 

Using a mathematical algorithm, the experts determined that depression was reported 40 to 88 percent less often by Botox users for six of the eight conditions and injection sites – compared to individuals who used different treatments for the same conditions.

“This finding is exciting because it supports a new treatment to affect mood and fight depression, one of the common and dangerous mental illnesses – and it’s based on a very large body of statistical data, rather than limited-scale observations,” said Makunts.

The clinical trial that is currently underway is directly testing Botox treatment for patients with depression. Since the trial is testing only forehead injections, Dr. Abagyan said that additional clinical trials may be necessary to work out the best site and dose to administer the medication specifically for depression.

At the same time, more research is needed to determine the mechanism by which Botox acts as an antidepressant, said Dr  Abagyan. The researchers have come up with a couple of theories of their own. For example, they speculate that Botox may be transported to the regions of the central nervous systems involved in mood and emotions. 

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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