Surprising results for antidepressants and exercise in stroke recovery

Drs. Paul Albert and Faranak Vahid-Ansari

Exercise and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly prescribed antidepressants, are effective in treating certain kinds of depression. But little research has tested them together in post-stroke depression, which affects 20 to 80 percent of stroke survivors. Drs. Paul Albert and Faranak Vahid-Ansari investigated this using a novel mouse model.

Surprisingly, they found exercise had no impact on depression. However, the SSRIs had a much greater impact than expected. The antidepressants not only completely eliminated depression and anxiety, but also completely restored learning and memory. Further studies revealed that stroke caused an imbalance in brain activity in this model, which was rebalanced by the SSRIs but not exercise.

This research provides new excitement about the possible use of antidepressants to improve memory after a stroke. It also provides a new understanding of which regions of the brain might benefit from brain stimulation after a stroke. Dr. Albert and his team hope to test this in the near future.