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Mol Pharmacol. 2002 Apr;61(4):778-85.

Up-regulation of tryptophan hydroxylase expression and serotonin synthesis by sertraline.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.


The neurotransmitter serotonin is involved in a variety of brain functions, and abnormal changes in serotonin neurotransmission are associated with an array of psychiatric disorders, including depression. Sertraline is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and an effective antidepressant. Sertraline increases the serotonin concentration in the synaptic cleft by a short-term action; however, clinical improvement is observed only after several weeks, suggesting that the therapeutic effect may be caused by long-term alterations in serotonin transmission. We determined the effects of sertraline on serotonin synthesis in vivo and in vitro. Long-term treatment of rats with sertraline up-regulated mRNA and protein levels of the serotonin-synthesizing enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH), as determined by in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry, respectively. In vitro studies using RBL-2H3 cells also showed an increase in mRNA and protein levels of TPH by sertraline, as determined by Northern blot and immunoblot analyses, respectively. This was accompanied by increases in the levels of TPH enzymatic activity and total serotonin. These data demonstrate that in addition to the known short-term action as an uptake blocker, sertraline also exerts a long-term effect on the serotonin neurotransmission by enhancing serotonin synthesis. A similar effect was observed with another SSRI, fluoxetine, but not with the non-SSRI chlorpromazine. The up-regulation of TPH gene expression by sertraline was attenuated by the protein kinase A (PKA) inhibitor N-[2-(p-bromocinnamylamine)-ethyl]-5-isoquinolinesulfonamine, suggesting that a mechanism involving the PKA signaling pathway might at least in part mediate the long-term therapeutic action.

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