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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2011 Apr;98(2):273-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2011.01.008. Epub 2011 Jan 20.

Icariin attenuates social defeat-induced down-regulation of glucocorticoid receptor in mice.

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Department of Integrative Medicine, Huashan Hospital, Fudan University, Middle, Urumqi Road 12#, Shanghai, 200040, China.


Icariin is a major constituent of flavonoids isolated from the herb Epimedium. It displays antidepressant-like activity in mice behavioral despair models and chronic mild stress models. In this study, a chronic social defeat protocol is used as a mouse model for depression, and the social avoidance effects of icariin administration are investigated. The data indicate that social defeat significantly reduces mice social interaction time and that icariin administered at 25 mg/kg and 50 mg/kg for 28 consecutive days produce remarkable increases in social interaction time. Impaired glucocorticoid receptor (GR) function is related to depression and normalization of GR function is closely associated with the recovery from depression. In this study, GR binding affinity and protein expression were evaluated by radioactive ligand and western blot, respectively. Our results demonstrate that both GR binding affinity and protein expression in the social defeat model are remarkably decreased and that icariin administration attenuates social defeat-induced GR down-regulation. In the present study, our data also show that icariin administration significantly inhibits social defeat-induced increases of corticosterone and IL-6 levels. The potential mechanisms of icariin induced GR modulation, such as effects on HPA-axis function, proinflammatory signaling pathway and membrane steroid transporters, need further study.

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