Antidepressants such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) act as indirect agonists of serotonin (5-HT) receptors. Although these drugs produce a rapid blockade of serotonin transporters (SERTs) in vitro, several weeks of treatment are necessary to observe clinical benefits. This paradox has not been solved yet. Recent studies have identified modifications of intracellular signaling proteins and target genes that could contribute to antidepressant-like activity of SSRI (e.g., increases in neurogenesis and BDNF protein levels), and may explain, at least in part, their long delay of action. Although these data suggest a positive regulation of 5-HT on the expression of the gene coding for BDNF, the reciprocal effects of BDNF on brain 5-HT neurotransmission remains poorly documented. To study the impact of BDNF on serotonergic activity, a dual experimental strategy was used to analyze neurochemical and behavioral consequences of its decrease (strategy 1) or increase (strategy 2) in the brain of adult male mice. (1) In heterozygous BDNF+/- mice in which brain BDNF protein levels were decreased by half, an enhancement of basal extracellular 5-HT levels (5-HText) that induced a down-regulation of SERT, i.e., a decrease in its capacity to reuptake 5-HT, was found in the hippocampus. In addition, the SSRI, paroxetine, failed to increase hippocampal 5-HText in BDNF+/- mice, while it produces robust effects in wild-type littermates. Thus, BDNF+/- mice can be viewed as an animal model of genetic resistance to serotonergic antidepressant drugs. (2) In wild-type BDNF+/+ mice, the effects of intra-hippocampal (vHi) injection of BDNF (100 ng) in combination with a SSRI was examined by using intracerebral microdialysis and behavioral paradigms that predict an antidepressant- and anxiolytic-like activity of a molecule [the forced swim test (FST) and the open field paradigm (OF) respectively]. BDNF induced a rapid and transient increase in paroxetine response on 5-HText in the adult hippocampus, which was correlated with a potentiation of its antidepressant-like activity in the FST. The effects of BDNF were selectively blocked by K252a, an antagonist of its high-affinity TrkB receptor. Such a correlation between neurochemical and behavioral effects of [BDNF + SSRI] co-administration suggests that its antidepressant-like activity is linked to the activation of 5-HT neurotransmission in the adult hippocampus. BDNF also had a facilitatory effect on anxiety-like behavior in the OF test, and paroxetine prevented this anxiogenesis. What was the mechanism by which BDNF exerted these latter effects? Surprisingly, by using zero net flux method of quantitative microdialysis in vivo, we found that an intra-hippocampal BDNF injection in wild-type mice decreased the functional activity of SERT as observed in BDNF+/- mice. However, the decreased capacity of SERT to reuptake 5-HT was not associated to an increase in basal 5-HText in the hippocampus of WT mice. Interestingly, using in situ hybridization experiments indicated that TrkB receptor mRNA was expressed in the hippocampus and dorsal raphe nucleus in adult mice suggesting that the neurochemical and behavioral effects of intra-hippocampal BDNF injection can mobilize both pre- and post-synaptic elements of the brain 5-HT neurotransmission. Taken together, these set of experiments unveiled a relative opposition of neurochemical and behavioral responses following either a decrease (in BDNF+/- mutant mice) or an increase in brain BDNF levels (bilateral intra-hippocampal injection) in adult mice. In view of developing new antidepressant drug strategy, a poly-therapy combining BDNF with a chronic SSRI treatment could thus improve the efficacy of current medications.
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