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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 May;34(6):1467-81. doi: 10.1038/npp.2008.183. Epub 2008 Oct 15.

Association of changes in norepinephrine and serotonin transporter expression with the long-term behavioral effects of antidepressant drugs.

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Graduate Program in Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences, West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, Morgantown, WV, USA.


Previous work has shown that repeated desipramine treatment causes downregulation of the norepinephrine transporter (NET) and persistent antidepressant-like effects on behavior, ie effects observed 2 days after discontinuation of drug treatment when acute effects are minimized. The present study examined whether this mechanism generalizes to other antidepressants and also is evident for the serotonin transporter (SERT). Treatment of rats for 14 days with 20 mg/kg per day protriptyline or 7.5 mg/kg per day sertraline reduced NET and SERT expression, respectively, in cerebral cortex and hippocampus; these treatments also induced a persistent antidepressant-like effect on forced-swim behavior. Increased serotonergic neurotransmission likely mediated the behavioral effect of sertraline, as it was blocked by inhibition of serotonin synthesis with p-chlorophenylalanine; a parallel effect was observed previously for desipramine and noradrenergic neurotransmission. Treatment with 20 mg/kg per day reboxetine for 42, but not 14, days reduced NET expression; antidepressant-like effects on behavior were observed for both treatment durations. Treatment for 14 days with 70 mg/kg per day venlafaxine, which inhibits both the NET and SERT, or 10 mg/kg per day phenelzine, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, produced antidepressant-like effects on behavior without altering NET or SERT expression. For all drugs tested, reductions of NET and SERT protein were not accompanied by reduced NET or SERT mRNA in locus coeruleus or dorsal raphe nucleus, respectively. Overall, the present results suggest an important, though not universal, role for NET and SERT regulation in the long-term behavioral effects of antidepressants. Understanding the mechanisms underlying transporter regulation in vivo may suggest novel targets for the development of antidepressant drugs.

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