Spotlight on Serotonin: Research expands utility hormone's repertoire

Researchers have recently discovered that the hormone, serotonin, may affect people sooner than previously thought.

Serotonin research efforts have been largely devoted to how serotonin affects the brain, where it acts as a neurotransmitter, a chemical that triggers brain cells to exchange messages through a complex signaling system. Given the importance of serotonin to brain function, disturbances in the system can contribute to a variety of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

Drugs prescribed to treat such mental disorders may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs work by selectively affecting serotonin levels and have been linked to an increased risk of birth defects.

Scientists have found that serotonin begins affecting developing babies in the womb as early as the first trimester of pregnancy by forming the basic brain function that will eventually be applied to learning and emotion.

Motley Rice lawyers are currently litigating cases involving the SSRI antidepressant drugs Paxil and Zoloft after abnormally high numbers of women who took these drugs during pregnancy reported having babies with congenital defects. These birth defects include skeletal deformities, heart defects, cleft lip, cleft palate, neural tube defects and others.

Read the full article on serotonin research in The New York Times.

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