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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008 Jun;33(7):1545-58. Epub 2007 Aug 15.

Repeated unpredictable stress and antidepressants differentially regulate expression of the bcl-2 family of apoptotic genes in rat cortical, hippocampal, and limbic brain structures.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Menninger Department of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine and Michael E DeBakey Veterans Affairs, Houston, TX, USA.


Apoptosis has been proposed as a contributing cellular mechanism to the structural alterations that have been observed in stress-related mood disorders. Antidepressants, on the other hand, are hypothesized to exert trophic and/or neuroprotective actions. The present study examined the regulation of the major antiapoptotic (Bcl-2, Bcl-xl) and proapoptotic (Bax) genes by repeated unpredictable stress (an animal model of depression) and antidepressant treatments (ADT). In adult rats, exposure to unpredictable stress reduced Bcl-2 mRNA levels in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA), cingulate (Cg), and frontal (Fr) cortices. Bcl-xl mRNA was significantly decreased in hippocampal subfields. In contrast, chronic administration of clinically effective antidepressants from four different classes, ie fluoxetine, reboxetine, tranylcypromine, and electroconvulsive seizures (ECS) upregulated Bcl-2 mRNA expression in the Cg, Fr, and CeA. Reboxetine, tranylcypromine, and ECS selectively increased Bcl-xl, but not Bcl-2 mRNA expression in the hippocampus. Chemical ADT but not ECS, robustly enhanced Bcl-2 expression in the medial amygdaloid nucleus and ventromedial hypothalamus. Fluoxetine did not influence Bcl-xl expression in the hippocampus, but it was the only ADT that decreased Bax expression in this region. In the CeA, again in direct contrast to the stress effects, exposure to all classes of ADTs significantly increased Bcl-2 mRNA. The selective regulation of Bcl-xl and Bax in hippocampal subfields and of Bcl-2 in the Cg cortex, amygdala, and hypothalamus suggests that these cellular adaptations contribute to the long-term neural plastic adaptations to stress and ADTs in cortical, hypothalamic, and limbic brain structures.

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