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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptNIH Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
J Neurochem. Author manuscript; available in PMC Aug 17, 2010.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2923201

Low nNOS protein in the locus coeruleus in major depression


Disruptions of glutamatergic and noradrenergic signaling have been postulated to occur in depressive disorders. Glutamate provides excitatory input to the noradrenergic locus coeruleus (LC). In this study, the location of immunoreactivity against neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS), an intracellular mediator of glutamate receptor activation, was examined in the normal human LC, and potential changes in nNOS immunoreactivity that might occur in major depression were evaluated. Tissue containing LC, and a non-limbic, LC projection area (cerebellum) was obtained from 11 to 12 matched pairs of subjects with major depression and control subjects lacking major psychiatric diagnoses. In the LC region, nNOS immunoreactivity was found in large neuromelanin-containing neurons, small neurons lacking neuromelanin, and glial cells. Levels of nNOS immunoreactivity were significantly lower in the LC (− 44%, p < 0.05), but not in the cerebellum, when comparing depressed with control subjects. nNOS levels were positively correlated with brain pH values in depressed, but not control, subjects in both brain regions. Low levels of nNOS in the LC may reflect altered excitatory input to this nucleus in major depression. However, pH appears to effect preservation of nNOS immunoreactivity in subjects with depression. This factor may contribute, in part, to low levels of nNOS in depression.

Keywords: cerebellum, locus coeruleus, major depression, neuronal nitric oxide synthase
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