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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 Mar;34(4):1067-77. doi: 10.1038/npp.2008.184. Epub 2008 Oct 15.

Postsynaptic alpha-2 adrenergic receptors are critical for the antidepressant-like effects of desipramine on behavior.

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Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, Morgantown, WV 26506-9137, USA.


The antidepressant desipramine inhibits the reuptake of norepinephrine (NE), leading to activation of both pre- and postsynaptic adrenergic receptors, including alpha-1, alpha-2, beta-1, and beta-2 subtypes. However, it is not clear which adrenergic receptors are involved in mediating its antidepressant effects. Treatment of mice with desipramine (20 mg/kg, i.p.) produced an antidepressant-like effect, as evidenced by decreased immobility in the forced-swim test; this was antagonized by pretreatment with the alpha-2 adrenergic antagonist idazoxan (0.1-2.5 mg/kg, i.p.). Similarly, idazoxan, administered peripherally (0.5-2.5 mg/kg, i.p.) or centrally (1-10 microg, i.c.v.), antagonized the antidepressant-like effect of desipramine in rats responding under a differential-reinforcement-of-low-rate (DRL) 72-s schedule, ie, decreased response rate and increased reinforcement rate. By contrast, pretreatment with the beta-adrenergic antagonists propranolol and CGP-12177 or the alpha-1 adrenergic antagonist prazosin did not alter the antidepressant-like effect of desipramine on DRL behavior. The lack of involvement of beta-adrenergic receptors in mediating the behavioral effects of desipramine was confirmed using knockout lines. In the forced-swim test, the desipramine-induced decrease in immobility was not altered in mice deficient in beta-1, beta-2, or both beta-1 and beta-2 adrenergic receptors. In addition, desipramine (3-30 mg/kg) produced an antidepressant-like effect on behavior under a DRL 36-s schedule in mice deficient in both beta-1 and beta-2 adrenergic receptors. As antagonism of presynaptic alpha-2 adrenergic receptors facilitates NE release, which potentiates the effects of desipramine, the present results suggest that postsynaptic alpha-2 adrenergic receptors play an important role in its antidepressant effects.

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