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Stress. 2007 Mar;10(1):3-12.

GABA(A) receptor neurotransmission dysfunction in a mouse model of social isolation-induced stress: possible insights into a non-serotonergic mechanism of action of SSRIs in mood and anxiety disorders.

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Division of Medicinal Pharmacology, University of Toyama, Institute of Natural Medicine, 2630 Sugitani (Medical Campus), Toyama, 930-0194, Japan.


Protracted social isolation in laboratory animals causes stress, which induces a variety of behavioral abnormalities including increased aggressiveness, anxiety-related behaviors, cognitive deficits and hyper locomotion. Many of these disorders are similar to the symptoms found in psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, premenstrual dysphoria and posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD). Recent studies have demonstrated that male mice that have been socially isolated for more than 4 weeks show: (a) reduced responsiveness of GABA(A) receptors (GABA(A)-R) to the administrations of GABA mimetic drugs at GABA(A)-R; (b) downregulated biosynthesis of 3alpha,5alpha-tetrahydroprogesterone (3alpha,5alpha-THP) (allopregnanolone: ALLO), a neurosteroid with a potent positive allosteric modulatory effect on the action of GABA on GABA(A)-R; and (c) alterations in the expression of GABA(A)-R subunits (i.e. a decrease of alpha1/alpha2 and gamma2 subunits and an increase of alpha4 and alpha5 subunits). The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) fluoxetine (FLX) and its congener norfluoxetine (Nor-FLX), when administered systemically at nmol/kg doses, normalize the reduced content of brain ALLO and the reduced responsiveness of GABA(A)-R to GABA mimetic drugs (i.e. pentobarbital) and also attenuate aggressive behavior in socially isolated mice in a stereospecific manner. Although these compounds inhibit ex vivo serotonin reuptake into brain tissue, their SSRI activities require high micromol/kg dose ranges and are not stereospecific. These studies suggest that in socially isolated mice, abnormalities of GABA(A)-R signal transduction are attributable to the downregulation of ALLO production and to a switch in heteropentameric GABA(A)-R subunit assembly composition. Hence, the normalization of ALLO biosynthesis may be a new target for the development of drugs effective for psychiatric disorders related to neurosteroid biosynthesis downregulation.

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