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A team at INSERM (the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research) has highlighted the crucial role played by the early years of life in regulating sleep. This period is in fact essential to the correct functioning of the serotoninergic system. If a very young mouse is treated for fifteen days with an antidepressant from the serotonin reuptake inhibitor class, it is later found to be susceptible to sleep problems. And these can continue throughout life. However, such effects are no longer observed when drugs are given after the animal reaches puberty. The effectiveness of such drugs on depressive individuals relies on their ability to protect the brain from a lack of serotonin.
These studies suggest that the first three weeks of a mouse’s life are a critical period during which the impact of this system on the balance of sleep and emotional behaviour is established and consolidated, the author points out. Once in place, it seems that no action can be taken that will adjust this balance in a permanent way.
These are not entirely new ideas. Back in 2005, the medical journal The Lancet pointed out that the risk of withdrawal syndrome increases in children born to mothers treated with antidepressants during their pregnancy. But this new study combined with others, confirms the need to evaluate the long-term effects of antidepressant treatment in children and during pregnancy.